“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
Rejoicing is a significant theme in this short letter that Paul wrote to the church in Philippi. It is perhaps somewhat surprising when we remind ourselves that Paul was in prison when he wrote it. Yet not only did Paul encourage the Philippian Christians to rejoice he was busy rejoicing himself.
By the time we get to our text in ch.4 the Philippians already knew that:
Paul’s life manifested joy even though his circumstances were hardly favourable to human happiness:
o He rejoiced to hear the gospel was spreading (1:18)
o He rejoiced that others were praying for him (1:18-19)
o He rejoiced to be able to serve the Philippians (2:17)
They would soon read too that:
o He rejoiced because of their restored interest in him (4:10)
They also knew that:
Paul wanted and expected them to experience joy and to rejoice too:
o He invited them to adopt the same attitude that he had (2:18)
o He did things designed to increase their joy (2:28)
o He had already instructed them to “rejoice in the Lord” (3:1)
And now in the words of our text Paul began to repeat himself as he again told the Christians in Philippi that they were to rejoice in the Lord and that this was indeed to be their characteristic behaviour – they were always to be doing so.
Have you ever stopped to think about what a lovely command this is? How many of our contemporaries fail to realise how good the Christian message is! Maybe we too fail to appreciate just how good this gospel is. I suppose the popular image of Christian believers is that they are a dull, drab and sad people who don’t know how to enjoy themselves and who spend their lives mourning over their failures. Well, if they (and perhaps we), think like that how wrong they are! Not only is it permissible for the Christian to be filled with joy and to rejoice but it is something that is required of him. And no person who takes this seriously can be dull and sad for rejoicing goes hand in glove with gladness, pleasure, satisfaction and praise – and the Christian is meant to live like that all the time.
So, Christian, be like that, be a rejoicing person!
As we think about this text today we will be seeking to answer two great questions:
- Firstly, what does it mean to “rejoice in the Lord always”?
- Secondly, how can we put such a command into practice in our lives?
But before we get to that let us make sure that we understand just how important this matter of rejoicing really is. After all, the word appears well over 200 times in the pages of your Bible including both descriptions and directives.
For the Christian the example of the Lord Jesus himself is always of primary importance and when we turn to the gospels we find that Jesus was a man who rejoiced and whose entire life was characterised by joy.
The disciples were, on the whole, pretty slow on the uptake but gradually grasped more and more of the truth concerning Jesus and then on one occasion, when they had taken a significant step in their understanding, we read that Jesus was very glad:
Lk.10:21 “In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”
While we often refer to Jesus “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” we should not make the mistake of thinking that he must have been a sad person – he was not for joy was a determining feature of his life. This joy was real and Jesus wanted his disciples to experience it too. And one of the reasons that he taught his disciples as he did was so that they might do just that:
Jn.15:11 “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
This concern for his disciples to know real joy also found a place in his high priestly prayer recorded for us in John ch.17:
Jn.17:13 “But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.”
Now if disciples are meant to know at least something of the joy of their Lord we would do well to ask ourselves “Where did Jesus’ joy come from?”
And the answer is not difficult to come by. It was part and parcel of a life that was defined by a God-centred obedience. Again and again in John’s gospel that particular message is underlined for us:
Jn.4:34 “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”
Jn.5:30 “I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.”
Jn.8:29 “And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”
Jn.14:31 “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.”
And it was Jesus himself who affirmed that his life of obedience should be an encouragement to his followers to live similar lives of obedience:
Jn.15:10 “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”
Jesus’ commandments are not irksome or burdensome for he too told his disciples to rejoice and that in circumstances that might be construed as anything but favourable. For example, concerning persecution, Jesus said:
Mt.5:12 “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
In Luke’s gospel Jesus’ words are recorded as: “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy”. There really is no place for the Christian to be morose and morbid here.
What kind of rejoicing are we to pursue?
“Rejoicing” is a common feature of human life; it is something that just about everyone indulges in at some time in their lives, it is not something that is restricted to the Christian. However not all rejoicing is to be applauded or pursued. In our fallen world nothing has been left untouched by sin and that includes rejoicing – the fact is that we can rejoice in the wrong thing. We need instruction and that is just what the Bible gives us.
Of course we’re not to rejoice in our sin even if our circumstances might seem to suggest that we have somehow succeeded in getting away with it. Nor are we to rejoice over the failure of others. To rejoice over wrongdoing is wrong and always is. But there is another kind of rejoicing that is unhelpful and that is when we rejoice in that which is good but fail to rejoice in that which is the best. Let me give you an example of what I have in mind.
On one occasion the disciples returned to Jesus after a mission trip and they were so pleased with what they had been able to accomplish! They had even been able to exorcise demons!! Do you remember what Jesus said to them?
Lk.10:20 “do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Don’t you go making the mistake that being glad and rejoicing automatically means you’ve hit the spiritual jackpot. You too need to be sure that you are not forgetting to rejoice in the most important, the most fundamental, thing.
And now we are ready to turn to Phil.4:4.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
What does it mean?
There are, I think, two different ways in which we can understand the expression “rejoice in the Lord” and both are eminently appropriate for us to bear in mind.
Firstly, it means that we are consciously to focus upon the Lord: who he is, what he has done, what he promises, and what he commands. And such a focus is not to be carried out in some cold or distant manner but with the deliberate intention of approving, appreciating and valuing what we discover.
In other words as we bring to mind all we can concerning our Lord and Saviour we do so with the settled aim of finding the comfort, help and support which are to be found in him and turning to celebrate such discoveries in joyful gladness.
To illustrate what this might look like let us consider for a moment the death that Jesus suffered upon the cross of Calvary. We know that he was crucified until he was dead and then his dead corpse was taken down and laid in a borrowed tomb. Such are some of the facts of history. But there is so much more for us here than the bare repetition of facts might suggest:
Yes, Jesus died but why?
He died to pay the penalty of sin.
But he was innocent wasn’t he?
Then the penalty of whose sin did he pay?
The sinner who repents and trust in him!
Can that mean then that he died for me?
Yes, if you repent of your sin and call upon him to be your Saviour.
But is it really that easy – it seems too good to be true?
Yes, it is that easy for us but remember it cost him his life – it is called grace.
Well that’s great news!
Yes, it is, so rejoice and be glad that God is so good and that Jesus is such a wonderful Saviour!!
And you can do the same sort of thing with every fact you have about Jesus. Learn to suck the goodness as it were out of every doctrine you know concerning Jesus. Every doctrine has its application and its personal application – when you find it you’ll be glad and want to celebrate in thanking God and in praising him with a joyful and thankful heart. This is what it means to rejoice in the Lord.
Secondly, to rejoice in the Lord means to rejoice as a Christian. You’ll remember I trust that one of Paul’s favourite ways of describing the Christian believer is to describe him as being “in Christ” and we can understand Paul’s exhortation to “rejoice in the Lord” in this same way. Rejoice now that you are “in the Lord” that is, “in Christ”.
This too is a fruitful course of action to pursue for the Christian is a new creation with a new life, a new outlook, a new orientation and a new destination. In truth when a person becomes a Christian everything becomes new at the moment of new birth.
Now these two different lines of thought run closely together and when pursued seriously will provide us with many good reasons for us being glad and for rejoicing in our Lord.
How can we “Rejoice in the Lord always”?
I suppose there are two questions rolled into one here:
How can we “rejoice in the Lord”? and How can we “always” do so?
Let’s take the second first.
Our Lord does not change – Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever – and therefore our ground for rejoicing is always the same. Yes, our passing circumstances might change but he doesn’t and while our new life as a Christian may undergo a number of ups and downs the fact of our being ‘in Christ’ makes us safe and secure for he has promised to keep his people and bring them safely home to glory. Knowing this brings comfort and hope to us – even if our immediate circumstances can appear grim to us at times our future is bound up with him and it is not so much rosy as glorious! We even come to realise that our Lord uses even all those trials that may well bring our emotions down to work for our eternal well-being.
The apostle James told his readers that they were to:
“Count it all joy... when (they) met trials of various kinds” Jas.1:2
And he went on to explain why and how – God had sent them for the specific purpose of bringing about spiritual maturity.
In writing to the church in Rome Paul said effectively the same thing when he wrote:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Rom.8:28
So we can always rejoice in the Lord.
Now we turn to the practical question of how we might rejoice in him. We have already indicated some general principles that we should follow but the NT also supplies us with a number of specifics too to help us.
Sometimes straightforward commands are issued and repeated, sometimes encouragements and promises are added to encourage obedience to such commands and sometimes normative Christian behaviour is described and we can check our own lives against these norms to see whether or not we’re living as a real Christian ought to.
We have already seen that there are a number of commands to rejoice to be found in the NT – our text today is just one amongst a number of them. Here are some more:
2Cor.13:11 “Finally, brothers, rejoice.”
1Thess.5:16 “Rejoice always,”
You might be asking yourself what is the point of looking at so many verses when they are all saying basically the same thing? Well the answer is precisely because they are saying the same thing! The repetition is there so that we don’t miss the point. We are meant to be a people that rejoices. If we could get that into our heads then the way we approach our Christian lives could well be revolutionised. And to rejoice in this way means that we become active. We are not instructed to sit back and “be happy” as though happiness will somehow fall into our laps when we just sit back and do nothing. No, we are told to be active and to rejoice.
Further instructions can be referred to which help us by pointing us in certain, particular directions:
Rom.12:12 “Rejoice in hope”
Rom.12:15 “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
These instructions are complemented by descriptions too that are very helpful to us. Let me show you some just briefly without commenting on them. They are all to be found in Romans ch.5 which we read earlier in the service:
Rom.5:1-2 “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”
Rom.5:3-4 “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope...”
Rom.5:10-11 “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
These things are written to help us – we need to ask ourselves whether these verses describe the way we conduct our own lives. If they don’t it is not the verses that need to be rewritten but our lives!
What a glorious gospel this is! A gospel which calls upon us to be glad and to rejoice in our unchanging Lord and in our status as belonging to his people! How many reasons we have to be glad and to rejoice if only we would take the time to learn to see things from a gospel perspective!
But you will never know such rejoicing in your own life as long as you remain outside of Christ. So if you have not already asked God to forgive you your sins for Jesus’ sake then do so now. Believe into Christ and then you too will be able to start rejoicing!
And to God be the Glory.