Rejoice in the Lord Always
Philippians 4:2-7 – Philippians: Life Together
2nd Sunday of Easter – April 8, 2018 (am)
You and I, all of us, human beings, long for nothing in this world more than we long for peace.Not only do we desire it, we need it. We get sick when we lack it. We develop disorders. We struggle to digest our food, or to fall asleep at night. Americans spend more than $30 billion a year on complementary health approaches (non-traditional medical care, much of which is aimed at treating tension or reducing stress). And we spend more than $40 billion just treating depression.
It really doesn’t matter whether we’re corporate professionals pressing to move up the ladder, seeking the next promotion and the raise that comes with it, or a stay-at-home moms trying to get the kids nap schedules to match up, and the weekly Bible study done. We may be students who just wants to be finished with the incessant deadlines and reading schedules, or a week-end golfers trying to straighten out a hook or a slice. Peace is an elusive commodity. It’s as fragile as it is desired. And as highly sought-after as peace is, it tends to disappear whenever we begin to desire anything else. That’s just how our desires work. When they’re not yet fulfilled, while we’re still pursuing them, we grow increasingly anxious, wanting them to be realized, and also most often fearing that they won’t be. So, we lose peace.
What we really need is for all of our other desires to be wrapped together with our desire for peace, so that they don’t rob us of it. And Paul is talking with the Philippians along those very lines in our passage today. He ends up telling them how to receive a peace that they’ll never want to lose. Do you need to hear this? I do! Let’s walk through this text in three steps.
A Personal Appeal toward Like-heartedness – 2-3
Paul opens his closing set of charges to this dearly loved church by urging two women to put away their disagreement with one another (2)—two women who (had) labored side by side with (him) in the gospel, just like he was calling this whole body to do (1:27). These women had been part of a team of gospel workers, whose names (were) written in the book of life (3). And Paul was seeking the involvement of one of them—unnamed, but a true companion—to help these women get past it (3). You see, they were each (citizens) of heaven. And they were eagerly (awaiting) a Savior from (there) (3:20). So, they needed to live like that was so. They were (awaiting the transformation) of (their) lowly (bodies) to be like his glorious body (3:21), and until that happened, they needed to stand firm in the Lord (1). Us, too!
For the sake of the gospel they preached, they needed to live in light of the inheritance they received in the gospel. As we’ve already seen, the absence of grumbling or disputing in this community, even/especially while living in a crooked and twisted generation, will cause them to shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life (2:14-16). It’ll bear out the truth of the gospel. They needed to agree in the Lord (2), to be of one mind (2:2) to be like-hearted. So do we; grumbling and disputing comes so easy! But it tears the relational fabric of the body. And must stop!
A Package of Instructions toward Like-heartedness – 4-6
From there, Paul gave some rich instruction on how to do this, how to agree in the Lord (2), to be of one mind (2:2) in order to stand firm (1) in one spirit…, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, not frightened in anything by (their) opponents (1:27-28). He gave them instruction on how to work out (their) own salvation with fear and trembling in cooperation with the work of God in them (2:12-13). And it began with his first (final) word back in 3:1: rejoice in the Lord. He comes right back to that here, and underscores it: 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. A charge repeated in every part of Scripture—law, prophets, wisdom, gospels, Acts, epistles—is Paul’s instruction again right here. Rejoice in the Lord. The God of heaven, the God of all creation, the God of our salvation and sanctification, is worthy of our worship! And the like-mindedness, the like-heartedness that He calls for among His new covenant people flows from their (rejoicing) in (Him), their celebrating His greatness and glory, their enjoying Him, and basking in His love and favor that comes to them in Christ, and not just individually, but in community, for their life together!
One of the clearest manifestations that this work is being done in us, among us, is our reasonableness (5), which Paul says should be known to everyone around us. It should be evident in our relationships inside and outside the church. NIV uses gentleness, NAS gentle spirit, NLT considerate. That’s good. There is a relational aspect to this word. Tolerant is within its range of meaning. RSV chose forbearance. Perhaps ‘graciousness’ is the best English equivalent (Martin 175). And essentially it’s the outshining of joy in the Lord (Michaelis in Martin 175). It’s patient kindness toward all people. How are we doing with that?
Gentleness is linked here with a central affirmation: the Lord is at hand (5), the Lord is near (NIV). This may mean that the Lord is near to his people by His Spirit, enabling their gentleness. Or it may mean that He is coming soon and will judge any absence of gentleness. But either way, the (Lord’s nearness) should enable, and motivate, our gentleness. And even though there are no linking words here, our observable gentleness, our forbearance in our engagements with others, believers and unbelievers alike, does seem to be a display to others of our (rejoicing) in the Lord—like the sweetness of our interactions with people is enabled by the depth of our satisfaction with God (which also suggests that our grumbling or disputing reveals a lack of satisfaction with God somewhere in our hearts). And deep satisfaction does that; it enables us to be gracious even with difficult people. I recall a movie (or TV show) where a woman and her child lived with her father. He was bitter that his daughter had this child outside of marriage and he berated her regularly—for this, and also for many other things. But one day the child was praised for something at school that truly pleased the mother. And when her father spoke harshly about it, she replied with a smile: You can’t hurt me today, I’m immune. Satisfaction does that!
Paul’s final charge here has two parts to it. And it is key. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Replace, anxiety with persistent, thankful prayer. Or better, displace anxiety with resiliently joyful, thankful intercession. This sounds much like Paul’s charge to the Thessalonians: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1Th.5:16-18). And what a charge this is! For one, it means that there are no circumstances in this life that are so dire, so painful, so tragic that thanksgiving is out of place. Or, to put it another way: that for which we’re thankful in Christ is so great, so glorious, so certain and lasting that there’s no brand of suffering in this life that can mute it or marginalize it or come close to nullifying it! Thanksgiving is always an option, and always a need! It’s include as part of a command, just like rejoice. And the two work together to lift us above grumbling and disputing, to free us from anxiety.
Here’s where we find the answer to anxiety that is so diligently sought in our day, as in Paul’s. Anxiety is displaced as finite creatures humbly recognize their place before a great and glorious God and begin to present their needs to Him—their worries and fears and disappointments—always thankful for the access He’s granted them to His grace through the sacrifice of His Son, and the citizenship they’ve gained in His Kingdom.
A Precious Promise that Rewards Like-heartedness – 7
7 And when we hear that call, and heed it, and enter into it with our whole hearts, a truly amazing thing happens: 7 … the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard (our) hearts and (our) minds in Christ Jesus. The peace of God will protect (our) hearts and (our) minds like a night watchman standing on the city wall—a precious promise. And this is no flighty peace that’s chased away by unfulfilled lesser desires. This is the peace that comes from God. It’s as reliable as His character, as resilient as His grace. It’s His presence among us. It’s God introducing and sustaining by His grace that which we most need, most desire in this life.
Peace has an amazing presence in Scripture—so much so that shalom was the greeting among God’s faithful followers under the old covenant, as they looked forward to the reign of His promised Messiah, the Prince of Peace (Isa.9:6). And it continued to be a standard greeting in most of the NT letters, including this one (1:2). Peace is the distinguishing mark of Christ’s Kingdom and His reign. It’s that state of universal flourishing where there are finally no tears in the relational fabric, in any area of life! This sort of wholeness, of well-being, of peace, can only be attained in Him, by His presence, when the Lord is at hand (5). And ultimately it will come only when His Kingdom has been fully and finally delivered. But until then it comes only as His creatures recognize His reign and rejoice in it, rejoice in Him. It comes only as they live in this world displaying characteristics of the next, treating friend and foe with Kingdom-worthy gentleness. It comes only as they recognize anxiety as dishonoring to God—as part of human condition and so unable to be entirely eradicated in this life, but still, as dishonoring to God—so it is displaced by bringing it to God in prayer, faithfully, thankful for this privilege, this grace, and thankful for the maturity (Jam.1:2-4) and fellowship with Christ this battle, this suffering, will produce in us.
Peace that comes from God in response to such (rejoicing) and gentleness and prayer transcends all understanding (NIV). When we taste of it we can’t believe how sweet it is, how deep it runs, how thoroughly it satisfies!
I want to give you a few moments now to do exactly what this passage teaches us to do. I know there are areas where you lack peace. I know there are relational tensions that need to be eased. And if you have none, I know you’re aware of some that need to be eased. So, as a true companion of Christ, help with them. Begin with prayer—joyful, gentle, thankful prayer, seeking the peace of God.
Now let’s remember what was done to bring us this peace: let’s come together to the Table of the Lord.