(1) Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
(2) I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.
(3) Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
(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.
In 1937, architect Frank Lloyd Wright built a house for Hibbard Johnson. Johnson was a partner of Thomas Edison and one of the early founders of Con Ed and General Electric, so he could afford the best and he thought Wright built him the best, but one rainy evening when Johnson was entertaining distinguished guests for dinner, the roof began to leak. The water seeped through directly above Johnson himself, dripping onto his bald head. Irate, he called Wright in Phoenix, Arizona. “Frank,” he said, “you built this beautiful house for me, but the roof leaks. Right now, I am with friends, and it is leaking right on top of my head.” There was a pause on the line, and then Frank Lloyd Wright replied: “Well, Hibbard, why don’t you move your chair?”
Let us talk about Joy. Let us talk about rejoicing.
Psalms 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16 is one of the shortest verses in the Bible. It says, “Rejoice always.” In like manner, we read in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” The Apostle Paul is telling us to cheer up, rejoice, and be glad. As believers, we should be continually in a state of joy, and he adds that this state of joy is only to be had “in the Lord.” Genuine joy is spiritual. Notice Paul repeats himself in Philippians. He says, rejoice and then again he says rejoice. Because this is so important, this is so much a part of the Christian life.
Many Christians struggle with this idea of having “joy” in their lives. They do not have any. Billy Sunday, the baseball player who turned Christian evangelist in the early 1900's, noticed this absence of joy in people, and he observed: “If there is no joy in your religion, you’ve got a leak in your faith.” In other words, if there is no happiness in your life, you have a problem that you need to deal with.
Now I know that some folks will say, they do not have any reason to be happy. They are not satisfied with their job, if they even have one. Their family has problems. Their health is not good. They say life just is not that good. We can sympathize with them. It is hard to be joyful when you are struggling with troubles, overwhelmed by pain, or unsure of your future.
However, there is a problem with that approach to life. If we wait until everything is coming up roses, if we cannot rejoice until everything is perfect in our lives, then we are never going to rejoice. Jesus warned us that. He said, "In this world you will have trouble." John 16:33. In this world, we may have moments of delight and triumph. We have all seen the video clips of the unrestrained demonstrations of ecstatic joy in the Olympics over winning the gold medal. We have seen the eruption of laughter and tears over winning the crown of Miss America. Maybe some of you saw the exaltation of the 276 audience members of the Oprah show on September 13, 2004, when they each received a new car to celebrated Oprah's 19th season. They rejoiced, but not always. They did not rejoice forever after.
If you go to a bookstore, you might conclude that everyone in the USA is feverishly studying joy. You see titles like: The Joy of Cooking, The Joy of Living, The Joy of Sex, The Joy of Parenthood, The Joy of Painting, and so one and so forth. The world is locked into a manic search for joy. We are told that this party, this cruise, this home, this car, this accomplishment, will bring us the happiness we crave and deserve, but the painful truth is that kind of happiness is a fleeting moment at best, and then life returns to its humdrum reality. As one writer cynically put it, “It’s like the good meal given to an inmate on death row. These are only momentary diversions in the grim march toward death.”
“This world” then cannot be the source for our rejoicing. I know that our Declaration of Independence guarantees citizens the right to the pursuit of happiness, but if we are trying to find happiness here and now, somehow we never quite find it. There is always, as the old saying goes, “A fly in the ointment.”
By contrast, the kind of joy the Apostle Paul is talking about in Philippians does not depend upon present situation. In fact, Paul's joy exists in spite of circumstances. There is an old story that a woman once asked a friend, “How are you doing?” Her friend was upset about something, and replied, “All right – under the circumstances.” To which the woman replied, “What you are doing under there? What are you doing under your circumstances?” Her point was that God does not want us to be under our circumstances. God wants us to overcome our circumstances. God has given us the ability to control of our lives. God sets us free from the chains and shackles of circumstances.
That is why Scripture so often tells us to rejoice, even when it does not make any sense. For example, 1 Peter 4:12-13
(12) Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
(13) But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
Peter says that if your roof is leaking and you cannot get someone to fix it right away, move your chair. Change your perspective. Take control of your life—by rejoicing.
In the book of Acts, While they were in the city of Philippi, Paul and Silas were arrested. Acts 16 tells us “The magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks (Acts 16:22-24). They had not done anything wrong. They had preached the love of Jesus; they had healed a demon-possessed girl, but they were mistreated, beaten, and imprisoned. How would you have responded to that? You would have probably said, “It is not right. It is not fair. They have no right to treat me like this.” That is what most people would have said, but not Paul and Silas,
Acts 16:25 tells us “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” Paul and Silas had been stripped, beaten, thrown into the darkest cell in the dungeon, and they are praying and singing. They could have allowed their situation to have control of them. Instead, they took control of their situation by rejoicing in God. The result was that Paul and Silas witnessed to a literal “captive audience, and they ended up baptizing the jailer and his family into Christ.
God’s kind of Joy is not an emotion so much as a way of living and a power from living. As Nehemiah said, the Joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10
Well, we all want strength. So we ask how can I lay hold of the “Joy of the Lord”? We need to lay hold of the source of God’s joy. Galatians 5:22: “The fruit of the SPIRIT is… joy…” In other words, God’s Spirit is the source of God’s Joy; so, the more I am filled with the Spirit of God, the more of God’s joy I will have in my life.
Therefore, we need to spend some time in prayer, seeking the spirit of God, living in the joy of the lord. Hebrews 12 says, “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right hand of God’s throne.” (Heb. 12:2 TEV). Jesus overcame the pain and disgrace of the cross. He rose above the horror of His crucifixion because he did not focus on His present situation. Instead, he focused on the joy that was waiting for Him
Frances Jane Crosby was better known to us as Fanny Crosby. She wrote over 8000 hymns, with over 100 millions copies of her songs published--Songs like “Tell me the Story of Jesus, write on my heart every word”, “Blessed Assurance Jesus is mine”, and “To God be the Glory, great things He has done.” By the end of the 19th century, she was one of the most prominent figures among American Protestants. But Fanny Crosby had been blind since she was a baby. When she was eight years old she wrote this poem:
“O what a happy soul am I! Although I cannot see,
I am resolved that in this world contented I will be;
How many blessings I enjoy that other people don’t!
To weep and sigh because I’m blind, I cannot and I won’t.”
Rejoicing is a way of life. For believers rejoicing in the Lord flows from their life. Back in Philippians 2:14, Paul hits the negative side of this by urging us not to be complainers or disputers. Let me give you an example from the Old Testament. In Exodus 16, we have the account of the Israelites as they are traveling in the wilderness. They are complaining about hunger and remembering how much food was available to them back in Egypt.
Exodus 16:2: “Then the whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.” Listen to how Moses responds to the complaining of the Israelites. Exodus 16:8: Also Moses said, "This shall be seen when the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening, and in the morning bread to the full; for the LORD hears your complaints which you make against Him. And what are we? Your complaints are not against us but against the LORD." Moses says, “It’s not us you’re complaining against. You are complaining against the Lord.” Which raises a question, when we complain, who are we complaining against? If the Lord is source and focus of our lives, are we not actually complaining against God?
Complaining usually stems from a lack of contentment and our selfishness. When things do not go our way, we complain. When the person we voted for in an election is not elected, we complain. When our health fails, we complain. When money is tight, we complain. When our spouse does not meet our expectations, we complain. Because everything is about us. Or at least that is the way most people think.
Christians live a different way—rejoicing in the lord, always. A Biblical principle of Christian living is “putting off” the things of the old nature and “putting on” the things of the new nature we have in Christ. Paul urges us to “put off” selfish complaining. Get rid of it. It is no good. It will destroy you and it discourages those around you.
If Philippians 2:14 is the “put off,” then Philippians 4:4 is the “put on.” “Put on” rejoicing in the Lord. Choose to rejoice in all things. If you cannot rejoice in difficult circumstances then rejoice that God is ultimately in control of all circumstances.
Paul was writing this letter to the Philippians while he was a prisoner, but his writing is not filled with a list of gripes. Paul knew what it was to rejoice in the Lord. The basis for our rejoicing is our relationship. If we are going to rejoice in the Lord, we need a relationship with the Lord. I cannot rejoice in Jesus if I am not following Jesus. People are always saying have happy thoughts or have positive thoughts. That is not the answer. A relationship with Jesus Christ is the answer.
When Paul talks about “joy”, he is not talking about an “I’ve got a wonderful feeling, everything is going my way” kind of joy. He is talking about a life of continual joy that he could experience even in prison when things were going wrong. That is more than joy because of good times. It is joy in the face of, or joy in spite of the irritation, exasperation, frustration, and aggravation. It is the kind of joy Henri Nouwen concludes, “That does not separate happy days from sad days, successful moments from moments of failure. It is a divine gift that does not leave us during illness, grief, oppression, or persecution. It does not depend on the circumstances of our lives, or even on our momentary feelings.” The joy that lasts, that is not externally dependent, that is not dependent on the absence of sorrow and pain, the joy that lasts is rooted, grounded, cemented in our experience with God.
So Philippians does not say to rejoice in circumstances; it says, "Rejoice in the Lord." And since God is always with us, the verse adds, "Rejoice always." Joy that lasts is not externally dependent, is not dependent on the absence of pain and sorrow. Joy that lasts is rooted and grounded in a loving eternal God.
The Thirty Years War in the early 1600's was one the worst wars in European history--in terms of the sheer number of deaths, epidemics, economic disruption. Martin Rinkart was a German pastor who lived in the midst of the war. He lived in the town of Eilenburg which was overcrowded with refugees. Famine stalked the land and epidemic followed. In 1637, Rinkhart was conducting funeral services for as many as 40 or 50 people a day. By the end of that year they were burying people in trenches without services. Rinkhart lived through the worst of the worst.
But if you look in your hymnal, at #9, you will see that in the year 1636, in the midst of the Thirty Years War, Martin Rinkhart wrote one of our great hymns of Adoration.
Now thank we all our God
With hearts and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done,
In whom his world rejoices.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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