~By Nate WilsonClick here to hear an audio mp3 version.
Joylessness is a sin, and I want to call you this morning to repent of the sin of joylessness. I’m not saying this because I’m a model of Christian joy; on the contrary, I struggle a lot with this one and I simply want to share with you what I’m learning and call you to join with me in the struggle to think like a Christian.
The text for this morning is Philippians 4:4-7. This is an oft-quoted verse on joy, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I will say Rejoice. Let your graciousness be known to all people; the Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but rather in everything by prayer and by petition with thanksgiving let your requests be made known before God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
I struggle with that. I mean, just this past week I moved from a beautiful cabin in the mountains down to the city of Denver. First off, I didn’t want to move out of the mountains—I don’t like big cities, so that didn’t help my attitude right there. But I knew that God had clearly directed me to obey Him by leaving the mountains to move to Denver and I was committed to obeying Him. I gritted my teeth and began packing and moving boxes. You know what it’s like to move. After a few days I had turned into a zombie. Nothing is familiar anymore; everything I owned was in boxes, and my body which was used to doing deskwork all day really began to feel the physical strain of manual labor. My back ached from carrying boxes, and my hands felt like claws from all the work. On top of all that, things started taking twice as long because, for instance, to get to the pot we needed to cook dinner, I had to move that box, and to move that box, I had to first move the desk, and to move the desk, I had to take the door off its hinges, and to take the door off its hinges, I had to get the hammer and screwdriver, and, of course, the toolbox is on the other side of the house, and as I would cross the house, one of my kids would need his shoe tied or something like that, and by the time I had gotten back to that box, I had forgotten why it needed moving in the first place! I remember pulling away from our little cabin in the mountains in the moving van, dog tired, muscles aching, and a big lump in my throat and saying, “God, how can I rejoice? How can I be glad about this?”
Well, Paul, the Apostle, had been through more than just moving his house when he and Timothy wrote to the Philippians. The leaders of the Jews hated his guts and were doing their best to get him killed.. He had been arrested while attending church in Jerusalem, and kept in prison for years before finally getting a chance to appeal to Caesar. He had almost died in a couple of shipwrecks in transit to Rome and was now fighting for his life in a trial where he didn’t really know what the outcome would be. If he lost the trial before Caesar, it would be certain death. It also didn’t help that rival ministers were upstaging him and spreading false doctrines. Paul had been through the mill. He had no reason to rejoice. Yet the word “joy” is the central word in the book of Philippians—it is the most repeated word in the book. How can this be? How can Paul Rejoice? If you look at the book of Philippians, Paul is full of joy. He is joyful in his prayers, he rejoices that the Gospel is proclaimed by others, He finds joy in the Philippians--a group of people he had never met, he finds joy in the gifts he has received from them, and he wants to share his joy with them.
Please don’t get me wrong. This is not to say that it is a sin to be sad. The Bible clearly states that there is a time to weep. In chapter three of Philippians, Paul weeps over the people who walk in the flesh. When a loved one dies it would be wrong NOT to weep. I’m not talking about that. What I’m talking about is when we allow our circumstances to take our eyes off Jesus Christ and we lose the joy we should have in Him.
In this passage, we are commanded to be rejoicing. When a verb is in the present tense, it means to be continuously doing something—it is not a one-time perfunctory act. We are to rejoice and keep on rejoicing. As if the verb tense were not enough, our Bible adds the word “always” or “at all times” for good measure just so we can’t miss it. There should never be a time when we are not rejoicing in the Lord. If there is, then it is an indicator of sin. If you hold anything else besides the Lord more dear to you, then you will lose your joy when that thing gets threatened.
Now, we are to rejoice IN THE LORD. There are two monumental reasons why we should rejoice in the Lord. First because of something He did for us in the past and second because of what He is doing now.
1. We can rejoice in the Lord Jesus because He died on the cross for our sins. God’s law states that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiving of sin. Furthermore, it is not just any blood, for the blood of the sacrificial animals of the Old Testament was not enough. It had to be a man or something greater.
2. We can rejoice in the Lord Jesus because He is the LORD OF THE UNIVERSE. Everything that happens is under His care and control, so everything that ever happens to us in our lives is completely under the loving care and control of our Lord Jesus!
These two bedrock truths are what can give us joy. Jesus died to forgive our sins and make us right before God, and that same Jesus is in complete control of every circumstance in our life.
Wait a minute! What about the bad things that happen to us? What about when people get robbed or get sick… or even die? Yes, even the bad things come from the hand of God. Christians often get mixed up in a kind of dualism where they believe there is a good God (Jesus) and a bad god (Satan), and they are just fighting it out, and the good things in life come from the good God (Jesus), and the bad things come from the bad god (Satan). They believe that it is not God’s will for bad things to happen to a Christian, so their response is to rebuke the bad god for the bad things and try to get rid of them.
But that’s not what the Bible teaches. If you look a page over in your Bible to the first chapter of Colossians, you see Jesus Christ as absolute king over everything in the universe. He is in complete control of what goes on in this world. He decides to bless one family with a baby, to give cancer to another person, to heal one person, and to let another lose his job. It’s not arbitrary--no; every painful thing our sovereign Lord puts into our lives is carefully designed to glorify God and advance His kingdom in our hearts and in the hearts of other people around us.
When something happens to us that we don’t like, instead of getting angry, we must turn and say, “Thank you, Lord for this thing. I believe You are in control of it. Help me glorify You through it.” I was running late on my way here and I was going down the highway as fast as I could in the Right lane, and, of course there is this slow car in front of me, so I looked to see if the Left lane was clear so I could pass him. Now, why is it that every time you want to pass a car, there are other cars in the Left lane so you can’t pass? Arrgh! You see, it even happens with little things—God gives us opportunities to choose to rejoice when you can’t pass that slowpoke and you’re late to a meeting. Or when the baby blows his diaper out just as you’re running out the door. Or whenever…
If we can grasp this principle that there is only one God and He loves us, and He is in complete control of every thing that happens to us—pleasant or painful, it can be tremendously freeing! There's a lot more to this passage, but I just want to highlight three results to this kind of faith and rejoicing.
Let’s go on to verse five. If we are rejoicing in all circumstances, we will gain a reputation for being gracious. Different people have different translations of the word in this verse:
“Moderation” (KJV) “in legal rights so as not to press them contrary to the law of love” (Earle)
“Reasonableness” (Green) in judging, humble, steadfast patience which is able to submit to injustice, maltreatment, and disgrace without hatred and malice, trusting God in spite of it all (Rodgers)
“Gentleness” (NIV), “suitable, fair, mild” (Pershbacher)
“Forbearance” (ASV) “Forbearing spirit” (NAS), opposite of contention and self-seeking (Lightfoot), willingness to apologize even when you are not in the wrong” (Clark)
We don’t have to get even with those who hurt us; and we won’t become bitter, gruff, or impatient if we truly believe these two bedrock truths about the Lord and live a life of rejoicing before Him. When we become known for being gracious people in the midst of an ungracious world, it glorifies God!
If we believe that Jesus forgave our sins and is in complete control of our circumstances, we can be freed from anxiety! v.6 Do not be anxious about anything, but rather in everything by prayer and by petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known before God.
The word “anything/ nothing” is the first word in the Greek sentence here, emphasizing the point that there should be nothing – nada – zilch – zero – that makes you anxious. Nothing can worry us if we truly believe that Jesus has made us right before God and that Jesus is in complete control of the universe. Whenever a concern comes up, we can quickly deal with it by bringing our request before God—who is the only one with the power to do anything about it anyway! Then, knowing that the God who loves us and who is carefully arranging every circumstance of our life knows our concern, we can continue rejoicing—we can pray with thanksgiving!
Not only will rejoicing in Christ’s salvation and Lordship make us gracious and free us from anxiety, it also will give us peace. How would you like to have your own personal bodyguard? That’s what it says in verse 7—we will have the peace of God to guard our hearts and minds. The word for “guard” is really a military word, picturing soldiers standing on guard duty, controlling the city gate. This peace will guard both our “hearts” and our “minds” – the idea is that God will protect the entirety of our thought processes (including our emotions). God’s mighty peace is so awesome, it is beyond understanding, and that peace is what will guard us and keep us intimate with Christ. NOTHING will be able to break in and steal our joy, our peace, or our relationship with our dear Lord Jesus Christ! NOTHING!
I hope you can see more clearly now what I mean by saying that joylessness a sin. God’s word commands us to rejoice. If we truly believe that Jesus died for our sins and made us right before God and has ascended to rule the universe at the right hand of the Father in heaven, there is nothing that can steal our peace; there is nothing that can make us anxious; and there is nothing that will stop us from being gracious. We can rejoice in all things—good or bad—when we know that they all come from the hand of our sovereign Lord who loves us.
If you have never believed in Jesus in the first place, you can’t rejoice; it’s time to trust in Him that He died for your sins to make you right before God and was raised from the dead to be ruler of the universe. If you are a believer, but you have not been living a life of rejoicing, I call you to repent of that. “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I will say Rejoice. Let your graciousness be known to all people; the Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but rather in everything by prayer and by petition with thanksgiving let your requests be made known before God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Amen.