Philippians 4:4-7 (12 Dec 2021)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)

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Here’s a joke which is meant to make you think.  A masochist enjoys pain and likes to be hurt.  A sadist likes to cause pain and to hurt people.  One day the masochist said to the sadist, “Hurt me, please hurt me” and the sadist said, “no”.

While you think about that let me tell you that our text for today comes from Philippians 4:4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice!

I tripped and fell, broke a bone in my left arm, hurt my right arm and bruised a rib and now you tell me rejoice in the Lord always. 

Philippians 4:4-7 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

To be honest I have to say rejoicing is not my natural response at the moment. And you should be careful what you say to me because letting gentleness be evident to all is not coming easily to me.

There’s no pleasure in platitudes when you’re in pain and this verse can very easily come across as a platitude. 

Here’s another verse that makes a useful platitude: Romans 5:3 “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

It goes along with advice like, pull yourself together, stop whining, grow up, be a man, a bit of suffering is good for you, it develops character.

There is truth in the verse but it gets lost in the lack of compassion, support and understanding of your advisor.  You wonder if you want your character to develop to be like his, anyway.

Be careful when you are trying to comfort someone.

A bright, healthy young man asked me, “how are you going?”  I answered, “pretty well, under the circumstances”, so he asked, “what are you doing under there?”  At the time I thought that was just too cute to be comfortable. In fact, it’s not a bad question at all.  

I have friends who are experiencing a whole lot of worse experiences that I am having. They referred me to a similar verse in 1 Thessalonians five 18 where it says give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 

My friend pointed out to me that she doesn’t want to be thankful for the experiences or the circumstances that she is in. And neither do I. So how do we handle verses like this in the Bible?

Jesus handled not something as trivial as the discomfort and inconvenience of a broken arm but the agony of death on the cross and separation from his holy father. He didn’t rejoice in the prospect of the crucifixion, giving thanks for the pain and suffering but instead he prayed, “my father everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. If not, not what I will but what you will.” 

The prospect of pain was not something that he relished, not something that he was supposed to give thanks for but rather, he asked if there was another way to do things. 

What we’re asked to do is to fix our eyes on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

Read the verse in one Thessalonians five again. It says give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you. It doesn’t expect us to give thanks for the circumstances, but nonetheless somehow rejoice and pray continually. The circumstances are a part of God’s will for you in Christ Jesus, so is thankfulness; but the pain is not.

God doesn’t want us to be masochists, enjoying pain.

Having said that, how do we handle the practicalities of a verse like this one in Philippians 4? We might first ask if Paul really meant it.

Back in chapter 1 we learn that Paul wrote this letter while was in shackles in prison in Rome. When he wrote encouraging us to rejoice he, himself, was in really hard circumstances with very poor prospects.  He was in no position to indulge in platitudes.  This sunny epistle comes from the pen of a prisoner who did not know whether tomorrow he might be a martyr. He meant what he wrote.

Then, as you scan through the letter you find joy and rejoice running like a persistent theme throughout.  It keeps on cropping up and then rings out like a jubilant cry in chapter 4.

Rejoice in the Lord always. And in case you missed it and because I mean it and because it’s important, and because it’s not always easy or the obvious thing to do, I will say it again: rejoice!

But you don’t do this on your own, you know.  You can do this because the Lord is near!

Do you remember that the lord Jesus died in the cross for you, that he was raised from the dead and ascended to be at the right hand of god? Do you remember that he sent his holy spirit to be in and with you always? Do you understand that this means that the Lord is near?

We seem to most need that reassurance at the very times it seems hardest to remember it, to be strengthened by it.  The reality of Jesus’ presence is so easily and commonly lost.  Instead, we relapse into trying to cope on our own, allowing Jesus to become that vague Sunday school type caricature.

But that he is not! Jesus is the creator and sustainer of the universe, the almighty king of kings!! And he is near!

Remember these words, “the Lord is near”. Remember, too, that it’s not just a nice, mystical, hopefully comforting thing to say, because it’s real, genuine and personal.

Jesus lives! Here, today, with us.  The Lord is near!

If we know this then we are enabled to not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present our requests to God.

What power and freedom there is in this lesson.

Because he is near, don’t hesitate but go ahead and talk to him.  He’s near, he can hear you, he’s listening.

What do you want to say to him? What do you want to ask for? Present all your requests to him. Complain, if you like – the psalmists often did. Make mistakes – ask for the wrong things – you often will, but God knows best so you will get what you should. You don’t like your circumstances? Tell Jesus how you feel and ask for something better. Anything on your mind? Anything worrying you? Confused about anything? Want to ask questions?

Because the lord is near and really has you and your future totally in his control it makes sense to say, “do not be anxious about anything”.  You can at any time and in every situation, by prayer and petition present your requests to God.  

Too often we live by the saying,  why pray when you can worry? But what good does it do?  Does it solve the problem? Does it even change the situation for the better, let alone fix it? Or does it have negative rather than positive consequences? How do you feel after a good session of worrying?

Tell the Lord about it and trust him to guide you.  The Lord is near.

How do you finish your prayers and petitions?  By saying Amen? That’s ok, but there’s a better way.  With thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Sometimes it’s not easy to see what there is to be thankful for – but there is and you can see it when you look.

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Count your blessings, name them one by one and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

After you have counted your blessings think again about the fact that God loves you.  Jesus loves you. And be thankful he died for you.  Be thankful that he is near.

Did you notice that the text says rejoice in the Lord always? The word always makes this action, this state, something continuous, a temperament, a way of life irrespective of circumstances, externals or moods. 

To rejoice is an action, – something you do, but rejoicing opens the way to joy.  You can have the idea to rejoice, you can decide to rejoice, but you cannot determine to produce joy.  Like other feelings or emotions joy springs up, usually out of an experience. It happens to you.

Joy is not a bodily experience or an act of the will; it arises deeper than that, in the soul. Joy is a movement in the soul. 

Far from being an act of the will, something you do let alone bung on, joy is produced by the Holy Spirit.  It is part of the fruit of the Spirit. The joy in your soul overflowing towards God is coming from the work of the Holy Spirit. 

The Holy Spirit does this work, not magically without your mind being engaged, but by causing you to see the glory and beauty of Jesus Christ in his work, in his word and in the world.

You don’t get joy if you don’t rejoice. And when you rejoice you rejoice in the Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ in all his love, authority and beauty you will experience joy.

Think about it as a relationship. What makes it possible is knowing Jesus, knowing the Lord is near.

Once you have made your requests to god by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving then the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The peace of God [that peace which reassures the heart, that peace] which transcends all understanding, [that peace which] stands guard over your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, that peace that also is a fruit of the Spirit [is yours].

Do you want to enjoy such peace? Then this passage tells you it comes as part of a package. 

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)

Finally, here’s how Paul advised his readers, including us, as to how to maintain this blessing.

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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)

Last Updated on December 12, 2021 by Ken Joyce