************ Sermon on Philippians 4:4 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 24, 1998
"Rejoice in the Lord Always"
A "Rejoice!" Sixteen times this word or a similar one is found in Paul's short letter to the Philippian church.
"Rejoice!" This is a command of the Lord to all believers. It isn't only Christians at Philippi who are to rejoice. The Spirit-inspired apostle also commands the Trinity congregation to rejoice.
B What does the apostle mean by "rejoice"? Joy or rejoicing is a Christian concept with Old Testament roots. In the Old Testament it refers to an inward religious emotion which absolutely has to come to outward expression. Generally, joy expresses itself in such things as singing, shouting, clapping, hand-raising, and dancing. It is the natural consequence of fellowship with God and can have only one result: praise to and for God. Joy leads to praise. And praise means we are fulfilling God's purpose for placing us on earth.
Joy or rejoicing is especially prominent within the psalms. I spent some time this past week looking at those psalms that speak of "joy" or "rejoicing." Let me quote brief selections:
(Ps 32:11) Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!
(Ps 47:1) Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.
(Ps 95:1,2) Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.
(Ps 98:4) Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music...
(Ps 118:24) This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Earlier today I led a service at Corcoran State Prison. The men there expressed their joy by clapping, hand-raising and waving, and saying "hallelujah" and "amen." In contrast to this, within our average Christian Reformed Church member joy comes to expression mostly through singing, prayers, and the offering of gifts. There is something within our tradition and culture which restrains us from letting our joy come to expression in the same way that it came to expression for Old Testament believers or for those in Corcoran State Prison. Yet, this does not mean that we are without joy. What we need to realize, congregation, is that there are many legitimate and Biblical ways for our Christian joy to come to expression in worship.
Let me hasten to add that the command to rejoice is not limited to just public worship. Joy is to be found in the Christian's entire life.
C The command to "rejoice" is given to all of God's people. In fact, joy is one of the characteristics of the true believer's life. According to Galatians 5, joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit-filled and Spirit-led life (Gal 5:22). In other words, those who belong to Jesus are marked with joy; it is one way to distinguish us from unbelievers; it is one of our trademarks. We, who "live by the Spirit" and who are to "keep in step with the Spirit" rather than "gratify the desires of the sinful nature" (Gal 5:16,25) are to be filled with a deep and abiding joy.
The Lord desires that His people take Him seriously but that they not take themselves too seriously. He wants them to wipe off their grim looks, put smiles on their faces, and let laughter flow from their lips. This reminds me of the words of Helmut Thielicke:
Topic: JoyFrom this pulpit, in other words, I should not see glum, sour faces. Rather, I should see faces filled with the radiancy of the Lord.
Should we not see that lines of laughter about the eyes are just as much marks of faith as are the line of care and seriousness? Is it only earnestness that is baptized? Is laughter pagan? We have already allowed too much that is good to be lost to the church and cast many pearls before swine. A church is in a bad way when it banishes laughter from the sanctuary and leaves it to the cabaret, the nightclub and the toastmasters.
II Rejoice in the Lord
A Why are we to rejoice? Or, what are we to rejoice about?
"Rejoice in the Lord," says the Spirit-inspired apostle. Our joy, our rejoicing, is to be "in the Lord."
What does this mean? A quick glance through Paul's letter to the believers at Philippi tells us what he has in mind.
B First and foremost, to "rejoice in the Lord" is to rejoice in His work of redemption done on our behalf. For the sake of our body and soul Christ assumed the "very nature of a servant." He "humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!" But He also arose from the grave. "God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name" (Phil 2:6-11).
This humiliation and exaltation of Christ is reason for much rejoicing. For His humiliation is payment for our sins and His exaltation allows us to share in His righteousness so that we are acceptable in God's sight.
As believers we rejoice in the sovereign good pleasure of God in the area of salvation. Thank God it is up to Him and not to us to be saved, redeemed, and reconciled; or else we would never be saved. We rejoice that it is God Who works in us both to will and to act according to His good purpose (Phil 2:13). We further rejoice that He Who began a good work within us will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6).
C The apostle is also filled with joy because of the Philippian Christians' partnership in the gospel of the Lord (Phil 1:4). They supported Paul with prayers (Phil 1:19). They sent Epaphroditus to minister to Paul as a servant (Phil 2:25). Again and again they financially supported Paul's ministry. All this is much cause for rejoicing on the part of Paul. "The important thing," says Paul, "is that ... Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice" (Phil 1:18).
Like the Philippian Christians we too are partners in bringing the Gospel. We can rejoice that we are partners in the Gospel, through our gifts and prayers, with those who labor as missionaries on our behalf: Rev. Hans Uittenbosch in the Seafarers Ministry, Rev. & Mrs. Kevin Adams in Rocklin, Rev. & Mrs. Ted Boswell in Japan, Rev. & Mrs. Ken Vanderwal in Honduras, Rev. & Mrs. Elmer Tandayu in Long Beach, Gil & Joyce Suh in Nigeria, Mr. Wilson Maloc our new church planter in the Philippines, and Andy Froiland in his prison ministry. You are partners with me in my calling and contacts in the community, the service I led at Corcoran, and the visits I make to the Bob Wiley Detention Center. And each of you have endless opportunities each and every day to witness to Christ. In all of this we can rejoice in the Lord because the important thing is that Christ crucified and resurrected is being preached both here and abroad.
D To "rejoice in the Lord" is to also rejoice in the hope that is ours in Christ Jesus. How blessed is our future condition because of the Lord: a new and better life in a new and better body on a new and better earth. "There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Rev 21:4). We will live in the glorious and wondrous presence of the Lord.
E Lastly, to "rejoice in the Lord" is to rejoice that we are the Lord's. You know what Answer 1 of the Catechism says: "I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ." Believers can rejoice because it is Christ Who is in control of their life and Who guards and protects their soul.
III Rejoice in the Lord Always
A "Rejoice," says Paul. He tells us why to do it: "in the Lord." And he tells us when to do it: "always."
Let's not forget the historical setting behind this letter to the Church at Philippi. The Apostle is imprisoned for the sake of the Gospel. He is under guard in the Imperial capital of Rome. His case has already been heard and at any moment he expects a negative judgment to be rendered and his life to be forfeited. Yet he can say, "Rejoice in the Lord always."
Throughout his ministry the apostle suffered imprisonment, flogging, ship wreck, exposure to death, danger, hunger, thirst, fatigue, and cold (cf 2 Cor 11:23-29). Yet he can say, "Rejoice in the Lord always."
Paul's own life situation is a commentary on this verse in front of us. We know he means for us to rejoice in the Lord at all times and under all circumstances.
B The Apostle, of course, sets the believers a personal example here. When Paul, with Silas, first preached the Gospel in Philippi, he was stripped, beaten, flogged, and thrown into prison with his feet fastened in stocks. "About midnight," says Scripture, "Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them" (Acts 16). Here we see an impressive victory of faith and joy over despair.
The Apostle Paul rejoiced in the Lord at all times and under all circumstances.
C The Philippian Church was a Church filled with doubt and fear (Phil 1:28) set in the midst of a crooked and depraved generation (Phil 2:15). Yet Paul says to them, "Rejoice in the Lord always."
No matter the time or the circumstances, God's people are to rejoice in the Lord.
Perhaps your life is filled with tragedy and hardship – and there is a lot of that, isn't there? I think of widows and parents mourning the loss of loved ones, parents agonizing over wayward children, members struggling to live Christianly without any encouragement or assistance from an unbelieving spouse. I think of those who have gone or are going through the heart-ache of divorce either in their own lives or in the lives of loved ones. I think of those families with children disabled with physical, emotional, or mental disorders. I think of those who find themselves struck with a debilitating illness. It is tough in such situations to feel any joy. In fact, joy is the last thing you feel.
In such circumstances does the Lord really expect you to "rejoice in the Lord"? Paul rejoiced in such circumstances and so should you.
The secret to joy is not to look at the circumstances of your own life. Rather, look to Christ and what He has done for you and in you and to you. "Rejoice in the Lord always."
Let me hasten to add that even Paul did not rejoice in the Lord for all circumstances. He did not rejoice for or because of or on account of the pain and suffering he received in prison.
Too many sincere but misguided believers get all mixed up and distort the intent of God's Word through Paul here. Never once does Scripture tell us to rejoice or to give thanks for all circumstances. Rather, we are to rejoice or give thanks in all circumstances. For instance, we don't rejoice for death or for pain or for divorce or for cancer. But, by the grace of God, it is given us to rejoice in or during or after these rather difficult and painful circumstances.
"Jelly Beans" is the name of one of the children's records we have at home. It has a most delightful song that speaks to boys and girls about showing joy at all times and in all circumstances:
What do you do when you sit on your lunch?
And your peanut brittle has lost all its crunch?
And your gum gets stuck in your hair, everywhere,
And the guys on the other team aren't playin' fair?
And you're having a perfectly miserable day!
Why, you praise the Lord Jesus anyway!!
What do you do when a friend calls you names?
And the vase gets broken, and you get the blame?
And you stub your toe, and your toothache, it hurts!
And there's liver for supper and prunes for dessert!
And you're having a perfectly miserable day!
...you just praise the Lord Jesus anyway!!
What do you do when the guys push and shove?
And the puppy chewed up your good baseball glove?
And the books you borrowed are all overdue
And they're having a party but no one asked you!
And you're having a perfectly miserable day!
You just praise the Lord Jesus anyway!!!
The conclusion the Apostle wants us to draw from our text is that the circumstances of one's life do not determine joy.
All too often even Christians think joy is dependent upon the circumstances of one's life. Joy, for adults who make this mistake, can't exist unless they and their children experience success, prosperity, good health, a happy marriage relationship, status and standing in the community; joy becomes dependent upon the presence of certain things or upon the absence of pain and hurt. Teenagers and young adults who make this mistake make joy contingent upon good grades, good looks, a friend of the opposite sex, a sporty car, a good-paying job, or no longer being teased and picked upon by classmates.
Christian joy can never be dependent upon the circumstances of life. In fact, as a child of God you should be joyful whatever may be the circumstances. You should be joyful in prosperity or poverty, health or sickness, life or death, rain or drought, sunshine or cloud.
"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" Christians are to rejoice in the Lord always – at all times and in all circumstances. At all times and in all circumstances we are to have a wholehearted joy in God through Christ.
"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!"
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