“Rejoice always.” Some people may say, “I wish I could!” Others may think, “How cruel to say such a thing. My life is just so difficult!” Still others may say, “We don’t think it is humanly possible to be always rejoicing when there is so much evil in the world.” Indeed they all have a point. There is sometimes little to be joyful about in some people’s lives. Many are simply in survival mode! Joy is not an emotion they frequently experience!
However we need to note that Paul in Philippians 4 is not simply saying, “Rejoice always!” Rather the words are “Rejoice in the Lord always” in verse 4. There is a world of difference. What does it really mean to “rejoice in the Lord?” Let’s see it in its context. Below is a simple outline of chapter 4 in which we see that verse 4 is pivotal. If one is really rejoicing in the Lord then a whole lot of things fall into place. Here is the outline with comments to follow.
1). The Command To Stand Firm In Faith in the Lord. Verse 1
2). The Command To Stand Firm Together In Faith In The Lord. Verses 2-3
3). The Command To Rejoice In The Lord. Verse 4.
4). The Results Of Rejoicing In The Lord. Verses 5-7
i. Being appropriate at all times. Verse 5
ii. Trusting in God always for everything. Verse 6
iii. Experiencing the peace of God. Verse 7
1). The Command To Stand Firm In Faith In The Lord. Verse 1,
“Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” Paul introduces the note of “joy” in this exhortation to his readers in Philippi. He calls them his “joy” and his “crown”. Their response to his message had brought him joy and he saw their commitment to Christ as a crown to be placed on his own head as a reward. [NOTE 1 below}
Paul had already written that he hoped to hear of them that they were “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” Phil 1:27, He wanted them to be united in spirit, united in purpose, united in ministry as they stood firm, side by side for the gospel.
The church as the body of Christ has to be at unity within itself or it has no real witness to the world of how God can bring about reconciliation among different sorts of people. Some in the church in Philippi weren’t united as 4:1-2 shows. Two women had fallen out and had to be reconciled to each other.
2). The Command To Stand Firm Together In Faith In The Lord. Verses 2-3,
“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 laboured 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.”
The phrase, “to agree in the Lord” [αὐτὸ φρονεῖν ἐν Κυρίῳ] literally means “to think the same.” Paul wanted them to come to a common mind in the Lord, to end their disagreement.
Standing firm in the faith means standing together in Christian unity and ministry. This is essential, not optional in the body of Christ. Euodia and Syntyche who had been previously involved in the ministry of reconciliation with Paul, HAD to be reconciled. Otherwise it was a denial of the saving power of the gospel and of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Paul had elsewhere written on reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5 as being part of His new creation, 2Co 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
God could not use Euodia and Syntyche in the ministry of reconciliation while they refused to be reconciled to one another. Their ministry would have no legitimacy or authority while they remained out of fellowship. They were not embracing the grace of God which would have enabled them to act graciously in forgiveness towards each other. For the sake of the Christian witness in Philippi, reconciliation had to take place.
3). The Command To Rejoice In The Lord. Verse 4,
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” We note that this is a command, not a suggestion! It’s more than singing, “I’m H.A.P.P.Y” (There’s nothing wrong with that as a child’s song but Christian joy has to be much deeper than that. We have to have a reason for our happiness). The reason is that we can rejoice in the Lord Himself. (Noting that Paul saw Jesus as “Lord” and as “my Lord”. Php 3:8 “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Paul’s mind was fixed on Jesus as the ground of his happiness.
Paul rejoiced as he focussed on Jesus having experienced His love, mercy, grace and power.
He rejoiced in Jesus as he thought of His teaching which declared the will of His Heavenly Father.
He rejoiced in Jesus as he remembered the promises of Jesus.
He rejoiced in Jesus because He could recall his experiences of the presence of Jesus throughout His life.
We have to move from rejoicing in the fact that we are believers, and have learnt Jesus’ teachings and know His promises, to personally and individually rejoicing in Him. Rejoicing in Him at all times and in all places! Paul himself was rejoicing in the Lord in prison awaiting death. He had done that previously in Philippi when he had been imprisoned there earlier in his ministry, as we read in Acts 16:25, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” [A captive audience with a difference!]
It means for us being able to say from the heart, “I’m so glad to be in Your presence Lord.” Perhaps this could be a missing feature in some worship circles as real deep genuine joy can be so infectious and so liberating for those who join in it. It is rejoicing in a person, the Lord Himself, in spite of all that is going on around oneself.
4). The Results Of Rejoicing In The Lord. Verse 5-7
A number of things fall into place when we fix our eyes on Jesus in adoration, praise and thanksgiving. We rejoice in His love for us and for His presence with us and in us. If we have enthroned Him as Lord of our lives then we know our lives are in His hands. It means:-
i. Being appropriate at all times. Verse 5. “Let your reasonableness (graciousness, gentleness) be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.” The phrase “The Lord is at hand” has 2 meanings. He is geographically close to His people and able to help them in their times of need. Jesus promised in His great commission in Mat 28:20, “… behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The word for “at hand” or “near” [The Greek word eggus, ἐγγύς means near in time and space] can also mean that Jesus is about to return. It’s worthwhile hanging on to our faith in Him because He will soon come to vindicate His people. He is near in (our) time and in (our) space.
If the Lord is at hand in both these ways, then it means that we can relax. We don’t have to force issues. We don’t have to ensure that our will is done. Like Jesus we can pray “… not as I will, but as You will.” As Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer it is all about the Lord and His will and not about us or our will, Mat 6:10 “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” So we can be gracious to others knowing it’s all about Him and not about us. It’s His will that is to be sought and followed, not “ours” or “theirs”.
ii. Trusting in God always for everything. Verse 6. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Jesus promised His disciples in all ages, John 15:16 “You did not choose Me, but I chose you. I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.” (HCSB)
All things are ours in Him, but we need to ask for them in faith and then to reach out in faith to receive them. Paul wrote that God is motivated to give to His people, Rom 8:32 “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” If He gave the greatest gift He could give (the gift of his Son) then He is motivated to give us the lesser gifts (in comparison with Jesus) of healing, blessing, guidance etc. Paul wrote something similar in 1Cor 3:21 “So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 1Co 3:22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours, 1Co 3:23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” All we need is ours in Christ. We just need to ask Him for it! If it is accord with the will of God then it is ours, to be received in His way and in His time.
The final blessing coming from rejoicing in the Lord is that we can know a peace in our lives that can’t be fully described.
iii. Experiencing the peace of God. Verse 7. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” [NOTE 2]
a. We can never describe the full depths of the peace we can experience in this life. It has to be experienced to be believed. Even then there is more to experience and more to come to understand about the peace of God.
b. This is none other than God’s peace. It comes only from Him through Jesus the Prince of Peace. As Jesus said in John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Your heart must not be troubled or fearful.”
c. It guards our hearts and our minds. Our mental and emotional health are protected by a sentry. It is the peace of God standing guard to keep our hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus our Lord. The readers in Philippi would have understood this figure of speech. Philippi was a Roman garrison city, protected for every hour of every day. The inhabitants would have dwelt at peace knowing that no invaders could come and disturb their peace. When our focus is right, directed on the Lord and we continue to rejoice in Him as a Person and in what He has done for us, we can experience deepening measures of His peace. Paul believed that if his readers were to follow what he had written, then they could know the peace of God. But as he wrote a few verses later, they would experience the peace of God coming from the God of peace, Php 4:9 “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.” An inner peace coming from the God of peace!
I conclude with a very meaningful translation of this passage from “The Message”. Php 4:4 Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Php 4:5 Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute! Php 4:6 Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Php 4:7 Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life.
[NOTE 1] “Joy” is the Greek word [chará, χαρά] which Paul uses 5 times in this short epistle. He uses the verb form “rejoice” [chaírō, χαίρω] on six occasions.
[NOTE 2] “Peace” translates the Greek word [eirḗnē, εἰρήνη] from which we get the English word “eirenic.” It can mean the absence of conflict but is much, much deeper than that. It can mean tranquility and even wholeness. Many see it as close to the Hebrew word “shalom” in meaning.
[P.S. This article is a revised version of article No 067. Lenten Studies on Philippians. Part 6. “Rejoicing In The Lord.” Philippians 4:1-7. Posted on April 2, 2012]
Blog No.244. Jim Holbeck. Posted on Friday 13th October 2017.