Living a Life of Joy 9) Rejoice in the Lord

9) Rejoice in the Lord

Text: Philippians 4:1-9

 

If you haven’t been here for the last few weeks, we’re in the middle of a series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians about Living a Life of Joy. A few weeks back we looked at chapter 3 verse 1 where Paul writes, ‘1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! (Phil 3:1a)’ Well he says it again in our text today, not once, but twice. Verse 4, ‘4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Phil 4:4)’ This is Rejoice in the Lord – Part 2. In chapter 3 it was all a bit theoretical, how we shouldn’t rejoice in our heritage, or our achievements, but how we should rejoice in Jesus who makes us right with God. But this morning Paul gets to the end of his letter he starts firing off a bunch of commands, of things that we need to do, he gets really practical. It’s as if he’s saying ‘if you find your joy in what Jesus has done for you on the cross, then you will also find joy in living for Christ.’ In chapter 3 our joy was based on our new spiritual reality in Christ, but in our text today, joy is found in living out our new life in practical ways. Rejoicing in the Lord affects how we do community, how we treat other people, how we pray, how we think, and how we behave. But it’s crucial that we understand these things in the context of chapter 3, the fact that it’s only Jesus who makes us right with God. Apart from Christ these things are pointless, but in Christ they fill us with joy. We do all these things in the Lord.

 

1) How we do Community

So Paul starts by telling us that rejoicing in the Lord affects how we do community. He starts, ‘1 Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown… (Phil 4:1a)’ Paul begins with five words that beautifully describe Christian Community. Firstly, Paul calls them ‘my brothers.’ It’s one of Paul’s favourite ways of referring to Christians (over 130 times). And Paul isn’t excluding women, rather he’s lifting the status of women as not just God’s daughters, which they are, but as equal with sons, as fellow inheritors of all God’s blessings. Paul is addressing this section to the family of God. Secondly, Paul refers to the Christians in Philippi as those ‘whom I love.’ In fact, he does it twice, later he calls them ‘dear friends,’ which is actually the same word. Paul loves these people, and not just some of them, he loves all of them. Thirdly, Paul ‘longs for them.’ Paul genuinely misses them and wishes he could be with them. Next, Paul calls them ‘my joy.’ Not only does Paul ‘rejoice in the Lord,’ he also rejoices in his fellow brothers and sisters. Finally, Paul calls them ‘my crown.’ As far as Paul is concerned his greatest achievement in life isn’t his sermons, or how many churches he’s planted, or how many tents he’s made, it’s people. Paul’s crowning achievement is seeing people come into God’s family, it’s seeing people growing in their love for Jesus. This is Christian community – our brothers, the people we love and long for, our joy and our crown. And as people who rejoice in the Lord our community is defined by three things.

a) Stand Firm together

Firstly, we stand firm together. The rest of verse 1 says, ‘1 …that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends! (Phil 4:1)’ The truth is there are plenty of things in life that might make us lose our balance – persecution, worldliness, temptation, sin, doubts, difficulties, suffering. According to Paul the way you stand firm is of course by remaining in the Lord, but it’s also by standing firm together. We stand firm because of the love of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We stand firm because we stand in community. This morning I don’t want to just ask if you are standing firm in your faith, I want to ask: who are you standing with? Who are the people in your life who encourage you and support you? Who are the people who encourage you in the faith, who keep reminding you of God’s grace in Jesus Christ? And who do you help stand firm in the faith? Even Jesus needed people to help him stand firm in the most difficult moments of his life. On the night before he was crucified he asked Peter, James and John to keep watch with him (Mt 26:38). Who keeps watch with you in the difficult times in your life? At Westside we tend to look at community in terms of concentric circles. The broadest level of Christian community happens here on Sunday mornings in our corporate worship services. This is where we want to encourage you through the preaching of God’s word, and corporate worship and prayer, and Christian fellowship. Don’t miss out on Sunday mornings, it’s where we are encouraged to stand firm. The next level of Christian Community is Small Groups. This is where a small group of people gather on a regular basis to study God’s word together, to pray for one another, to pastorally care for each other. Don’t miss out on Small Groups, it’s where you are encouraged to stand firm. Finally, the most intimate level of Christian Community is to have one or two people who know you inside and out. They might be your spouse, or a mentor, or a spiritual coach, or just someone that has always been there for you. Find someone who will encourage you to stand firm. We stand firm in community.

b) Agree with each other

But maybe you’re thinking that all sounds a little idealistic. Maybe you’ve been in a church or a Small Group where you’re not encouraged to stand firm. And that’s the very issue that Paul tackles next – disunity. And his solution is simple – agree with each other. Verse 2, ‘2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. (Phil 4:2)’ How would you feel if I named you and someone else this morning and told you to sort some stuff out? But Paul isn’t trying to embarrass these ladies, rather the language he uses is really gentle and affirming. Firstly, he addresses them individually. He says, ‘Euodia I plead with you, and Syntyche I plead with you.’ And notice that even though he has the authority to command them, he pleads with them. Paul speaks to each of them in turn, as people he really values. In fact, in the very next verse he mentions that they, ‘3 …have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel… (Phil 4:3b)’ and he mentions them ‘3 …along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers… (Phil 4:3c)’ and he adds that their ‘3 …names are in the book of life. (Phil 4:3d)’ Paul isn’t speaking down to these women, they are his fellow workers, they are sisters whose names are written in the book of life. Paul holds them in high regard.

But he asks them to agree with each other. The word the NIV translates as ‘agree’ is a pretty common word in this letter. Back in chapter 2 he talks about how we should be ‘2 …like-minded… [and] one in purpose. (Phil 2:2)’ And how our ‘5 attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. (Phil 2:5)’ Basically Paul is saying that we should think the same, or be one in thought, and the person who we should think like is Jesus Christ. There are two practical outcomes from this. Firstly, agreeing with one another doesn’t mean they agree with you, it means you both agree with Christ. The challenge for us as Christians is not conforming everyone to how we think, but in conforming ourselves to how Jesus thinks. Secondly, when two Christians have a disagreement there’s actually a third person involved, our Lord Jesus Christ. How we argue directly reflects on Jesus. When we resolve our conflicts well we bring glory to Jesus, when we don’t resolve them we dishonour Jesus. So I want to ask you, who do you need to agree with? Who do you need to resolve something with? Who do you need to think about someone like Jesus thinks about them?

c) Helping each other

But don’t feel like you’re on your own in this, remember this section is all about rejoicing in the Lord in the context of community. Paul doesn’t expect these two women to resolve this on their own either. His next command is that we help each other. In verse 3 Paul says, ‘3 Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women... (Phil 4:3a)’ We don’t know who this person is that Paul is referring to, but he refers to him as ‘loyal yokefellow,’ or ‘true companion.’ Whoever it is Paul tells him to help these women. In Greek this word ‘help’ is rather unusual, it literally means ‘to hold with’ someone. Paul asks this particular person in the church to uphold these women, to support them, or enable them. The point that Paul is making here is that Christian community is all about doing life ‘with’ one another. In fact, every second word in this verse starts with the Greek word ‘with.’ Paul refers to the person in Philippi as someone who served with him, his yokefellow. He tells him to hold with these women, who contended with him for the Gospel, and worked with him. As Christians we do life ‘with’ each other, and that’s seen particularly in how we help each other. So how helpful are we and who helps you? Who journeys with you through the difficulties of life? And who are you helping? Maybe Paul didn’t tell us who this guy was, because it’s not about who they were, but whether they would help their brothers or sisters in need. Rejoicing in the Lord works itself out in the context of Christian community as we encourage one another to stand firm, as we agree with each other, and as we help each other.

 

2) How we treat others

The next way that rejoicing in the Lord works itself out in practice is how we treat other people. In verse 5 Paul commands ‘5 Let your gentleness be evident to all... (Phil 4:5a)’ That might seem a little out of place, except for the fact that we’ve just looked at the importance of agreeing with one another. Well here Paul says that we should also be agreeable. The easiest way that you can turn people into a source of joy rather than a source of frustration is to treat them with gentleness. People who rejoice in the Lord are gentle with others. The Greek word is only used 7 times in the New Testament, and it means to be considerate, or to be gracious towards others. According to Paul this is one of the qualities that Christ showed us. He says, ‘1 By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you… (2 Cor 10:1a)’ In chapter 2 Paul made the point that Jesus didn’t consider equality with God something to be grasped instead he considered our needs and humbled himself. In the same way we should consider the needs of others, and humble ourselves and be gentle towards others. The truth is you won’t find much joy if you treat other people in a thoughtless or uncaring way. Unfortunately, there are many Christians who say they rejoice in the Lord and yet they’re prickly and hard and painful people. Like we saw in our Kid’s talk this morning, our desire should be to be like Christ, who wouldn’t break a bruised reed. People who rejoice in the Lord are a joy to other people. So I want to ask you this morning: how considerate are you towards others? How gentle are you? If you were to rate yourself 1-10 what would be your gentleness score. Rejoicing in the Lord means being gentle with other people.

 

3) How we Pray

Thirdly, rejoicing in the Lord affects how we pray. In verse 6 Paul says, ‘6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Phil 4:6)’ Paul gives a command not to do something, he says, ‘don’t be anxious.’ That word ‘anxious’ is the same word we looked at a few weeks back that is usually translated as worry. Jesus uses this word when he says ‘25 …do not worry about your life... (Mt 6:25a)’ And people who ‘14 …are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures… (Lk 8:14b)’ Rather than worrying about our circumstances we should bring them before God in prayer. Instead of letting stuff rob us of joy we should pray. When Paul talks about prayer and petition and requests, he’s basically saying, you can bring anything and everything, any way before God. His point is it doesn’t matter what it is, just go to God.

And the attitude which we are to approach God is one of thanksgiving. I don’t know if you remember my series on gratitude in January but I made the point that thanksgiving is actually related to both the word grace and the word joy. We thank God because of the joy we have because of his grace. We pray with thanksgiving and joy because God is notorious for giving undeserving people undeserved gifts. When we focus on our circumstances it robs us of joy, but when we bring them before God we are reminded of his grace. I want to ask you this morning: What do you need to pray about? What things are causing you anxiety? What is robbing you of your joy? I’m going to give us a bit of time after the sermon this morning for you to bring those things before God in prayer. Rejoicing in the Lord means praying with thanksgiving.

 

4) How we think

Rejoicing in the Lord affects how we do community, how we treat others, and how we deal with the things that make us anxious. Next Paul tells us that it changes how we think. It might come as a bit of a surprise but Paul is into positive thinking. If you want to be filled with joy you have to think about the right things. Verse 8,  ‘8 Finally, brothers, 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. (Phil 4:8)’ Paul gives a list and then a command. Just for novelty of it I’m going to flip it around and start with the command. Paul commands us to ‘think’ about certain things. That word ‘think’ means we are to ponder or dwell on certain things, to fill our mind with them. So I want to ask you: what sort of things fill your mind? What things do you tend to dwell on? It’s amazing the rubbish that we fill our minds with these days. We spend hours sitting in front of the television filling our heads with the strangest stuff, and what we read on Facebook, or Instagram, or Twitter, or novels for that matter, isn’t much better. What do you fill your mind with?

Well let’s take a look at what Paul tells us to fill our mind with. When Paul talks about ‘whatever is true,’ he is talking about the truth that we find in God, particularly in his word and particularly in Jesus Christ. Paul says to the Christians in Ephesus ‘13 …you were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. (Eph 1:13, cf. Col 1:5)’ What should fill our minds is the truth of the gospel. And that’s true for all the other things in Paul’s list as well. Noble describes someone whose spiritual maturity makes them worthy of respect. Most other versions translate it as honorable. Right is whatever is right in God’s eyes. Pure is whatever is holy, or acceptable in God’s sight. Lovely is only used here in our text but in Greek literature it refers to things that attract admiration. Admirable is only found here as well. Other versions translate it as commendable (ESV), or respectable (NCV). The word excellent refers to ethical integrity. In 2 Peter 1:5 it’s translated as ‘goodness.’ Finally, praise-worthy. Paul uses this word to describe how God is worthy of praise (Phil 1:11; Eph 1:6,12,14), but also how some people are worthy of praise (Rom 2:29; 13:3; 1 Cor 4:5; 2 Cor 8:18). And the point of all of these words is that people who rejoice in the Lord are people who fill their minds with godly thoughts. You can’t rejoice in the Lord and think stuff that is untrue, immoral, wrong, impure, unlovely, shameful, deprived, or disgraceful.

According to Paul joy starts in the mind. What we think about matters! And the thing that should fill our minds is the person and work of Jesus Christ. Maybe this morning you need to do a mental clean out. Maybe you need to start filling your head with good things instead of rubbish. There’s nothing wrong with a lot of secular music, but maybe you should listen to more worship music. There’s nothing wrong with a good novel, but maybe you should read more spiritual growth stuff. You may even have to limit who you talk to because they fill your head with gossip instead on godliness. What are you filling your mind with? People who rejoice in the Lord fill their minds with things that bring joy to their Lord.

 

5) How we behave

Finally, Paul says that rejoicing in the Lord affects how we behave. In verse 9 he says, ‘9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. (Phil 4:9a)’ Again it’s a list followed by a command, and the command is ‘put it into practice.’ You can’t get more practical than that. Paul’s point is that if we want to live a life of joy it might start in our mind, but it doesn’t stop there, it needs to impact our daily lives. If you have learnt something this morning you need to go out and do it. If you have received a word from God today, you need to act on it. If you have seen a godly example you need to follow it. If Jesus has filled your mind he will change your behaviour. So I want to ask you this morning: are you putting your faith into practise? Is what you believe working itself out in how you behave? If you believe that community is important can people see it in your life – are you always in church on Sunday mornings, do you go a Small Group, do you encourage others to stand firm? If agreeing with others means treating people like Jesus did, are you a humble, gentle and gracious person? If helping people matters, who have you helped in the last week, who will you help this week? Are you someone who is anxious, or someone who prays with thanksgiving? Can people see that you fill your mind with godly things as opposed to worldly things? People who rejoice in the Lord are people who behave like their Lord.

 

When Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord, it’s not some undefined spiritual feeling, but something incredible practical. Our joy in Jesus Christ is experienced in authentic Christian Community where we encourage one another to stand firm, where we agree with one another, and help one another. Rejoicing in the Lord means being gentle or considerate towards others. Rejoicing in the Lord means giving all your anxieties to God in prayer with thanksgiving. Rejoicing in the Lord means thinking about whatever would bring joy to our Lord. Rejoicing in the Lord means behaving like our Lord. If you want to live a life of joy then it starts with putting your faith in Jesus who alone makes you right with God, but it then works itself out in practical ways. May people see your joy in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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