Standing Firm for Joy, Part 1 (Philippians Sermon 19 of 24)
March 07, 2004 | Andrew Davis
I. Mystery: Standing Firm While Making Progress
We are in chapter four now in Philippians, and as we look at Philippians 4:1-9, specifically verse one, we come to a small mystery in the Christian faith. Now, there are a lot of deep mysteries in our faith. Christianity is a difficult religion to understand. We just got done in Sunday school, in International Sunday School, going through some of the deepest doctrines that there are in our faith. And so there are mysteries to Christianity, and there are some great and mighty ones, but then there are smaller ones too. And as I meditated on Philippians 4:1, I thought this is a mysterious passage, because it says there, "Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown…" that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends." Do you see that? Stand firm.
The Call to Stand Firm
So the text is calling on us that we should stand firm. Paul here refers, I believe, to the great opposition that there is to the Christian life. We know, we Christians know, that this is not a pleasure cruise to heaven. We know it's much more like a battle, like a warfare, than it is like that. And so there's great opposition. We live out our faith every moment in a hostile, contrary environment. We have enemies of our soul. They're fighting against us at every moment, the world, the flesh, and the devil against us at every step, the world with its intricate system of allurements and enticements appealing to our fleshly nature, as we talked about last time, our bodily side. And to live out those drives, those sensual drives, is to make our stomach our God, the very thing Paul commands that we should not do. But we have an enemy in the world, and also in its persecution.
And then there's the flesh, which is so greatly troubling to me. What is that that sinful nature, that part of me that is enticed by temptation, that actually responds favorably to it, the part that I despise the most, the part that wants to sin, to indulge in sensual pleasures, to have a comfortable and easy life free from trouble. And then there's the devil, an intelligent, vicious foe who never sleeps and is always scheming, through his minions as well, to bring us down. Who knows our weaknesses better than we do and seeks fiery arrows directed right to the chinks in our armor all the time. And so that's our situation. We are opposed all the time in our faith. And so there are in Scripture many such calls to stand firm, like this one here in verse one. For example, 1 Corinthians 16:13 says, "Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith. Be men of courage, be strong."
Or Galatians 5:1, "It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Or 2nd Thessalonians 2:15, "So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter." And the best of all, I think, is in Ephesians 6, extended passage on spiritual warfare. Ephesians 6:9-15, listen to these verses. "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God so that when the day of evil comes you may be able to stand your ground. And after you have done everything to stand, stand firm therefore with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace."
So Paul clearly there again and again saying we need to stand, we've got to stand firm, is implying there's a great battle swirling around us all the time, and our response to that must be stability, standing firm, not being moved. It is necessary, then, for us not to get swept away. And in order to do that, we must stand firm and not be moved in the day of temptation and persecution. But the entire Book of Philippians seems to be a call to make progress, that we should be advancing, that we should be growing, that we should be changing all the time.
The Drive for Progress
The interesting thing about this is that this call to stand firm here in verse one of chapter four, is intimately connected to the preceding verses of chapter three. It says, "Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown…" That is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends. Well, "What is how?" Well, you have to read the preceding chapters to know what he's meaning, I think. The central message of Philippians three is, in effect, I press on. I'm not finished yet, I'm not perfect, I'm not done in my journey, and so therefore I must make progress. I've got to advance, I can't stay where I am.
Look again at Philippians three, 12 through 14. He says, "Not that I have already obtained all this or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it, but one thing I do, forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."
That is a dynamic picture, isn't it? Forgetting what's behind, we're going to be moving, we got to move, we got to move in the Christian life. We got to make progress. We've already been told before that in Philippians 2:12-13, we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We're supposed to make progress. And then the whole thing was set up in chapter one, in which we have two uses of a Greek word prokope, which means progress. And he says, "I want you to know that what has happened to me has turned out for the progress or advance of the gospel," that means worldwide advance of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. We have to make progress in that journey, don't we? But, meanwhile, he talks about himself and their ministry and he says in Philippians 1:25, "I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith." So there's a dynamic picture here in the Book of Philippians of two great journeys that we've talked about again and again. The internal journey of sanctification, the external journey of worldwide evangelization.
Now, how can we put these two together? How are we supposed to be standing firm in a static kind of way? Or are we supposed to be dynamically making progress? Well, both, of course. How can we do this, how do we make progress while we also stand firm? And I think it comes from the need for stability, in order to make progress. I meditated on this for a while and I tell you any time you just want to take any text or scripture and just think on it, God is going to show you things. The discipline of meditation, is so valuable. And as I was thinking I was saying, "Okay, we've got to stand firm, but we've got to make progress." Of course, it makes sense. Think about it, suppose you were on one side of a rushing mountain stream, it's spring, the snow has melted and the water is high, about waist high, and you've got to get across at that place. Got to move, you got to get across. And suppose there's a guide rope going to across, but you've got to walk across that stream. Now every step of the way, you need to have sure footing under you don't you? You've got to have a sure grip on the rope or else you're going to get swept downstream. In order to make progress there, you must stand firm step by step.
Or take another analogy, one that we put on the cover of your bulletin there. Suppose you're a mountaineer. Look at that, go ahead and look at the picture. I think it's a great picture. I didn't pick it, but Jeremy picked it it's a great picture. I love it, thank him. Go and say Jeremy that's a great picture. I never want to be those mountaineers on that knife edge. But look at that, here's this mountain climber, and he is literally on the edge of eternity. I mean, really, he could slip left or he could slip right but either way he's history, he's gone. You got to stay right on that edge and it's icy and snowy. And don't you bet there's got to be a wind blowing up over that ridge as he makes progress. Now, I know enough about mountaineering I would never do that but I've read about it, I like to read about things. Okay. I wouldn't get up on the edge okay, but I like to read about it. And so this guy almost certainly has crampons on his boot there, there's steel teeth that are connected to his boots that give him a sure footing on that ridge without that stability, without that sure footing, he's going to die, no question about it, but he must make progress. He can't stay where he is. He's got to keep going.
The Need for Stability in Order to Make Your Journey of Progress
And so, the images come together, in order for you to make progress in the Christian life, you've got to have stability, you've got to have some things that don't move in your life, and that's what we're talking about here. Now the beauty is, God is sufficient for both the stability, the standing firm part and the progress, he's sufficient for both without that stability you're not going to make progress in your personal walk with Christ. Without that stability, you're not going to make progress as a witness for Christ, you must stand firm in order to make progress, but God is sufficient for both. Amen and amen. He is sufficient to make you strong, firm and established and he's sufficient to keep you moving in the Christian life. He's sufficient for standing. For example, I like this verse in Romans 14:4, it says there, "Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls and he will stand. For the Lord is able to make him stand." Isn't that a wonderful promise? God is able to make you stand so that you cannot be moved.
Great Assurance: God Sufficient for Both Standing and Progressing
Alright, well, God is also sufficient, for making progress in our own book that we're studying here, Philippians 1:6, "Being confident of this that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." He is sufficient for stability, standing firm and he is sufficient for incredible progress where you are taken from wretched and wicked and sin all the way to glory in Christ. Now that is an incredible journey. He is sufficient for both. And so we look to him therefore we must not look to ourselves for the stability. I praise God for the scripture reading that Eric chose earlier, 1 Corinthians 10:12, it says, "So if you think you're standing firm, take heed, lest you fall." What's the warning there? The warning is not that you should not consider yourself to be standing firm. The question is, what is your source of stability? Is it your own ability to stand firm, or is it Christ himself?
Now, if your focus is upward, if it's on Christ, then you're fine, but if you think you're standing firm of yourself, you're in big trouble. You're in big trouble. That's the warning there. We must never overestimate our own strength. Never. If left to your own devices this striving would be losing said, Luther. If you're left to yourself, you'll lose, but the right man is on our side, the Man of God's own choosing, it is Christ Jesus Himself, and He will enable us to stand firm in the day of battle. We must not have our eyes on ourselves for the stability in order to make progress. So therefore both the standing firm and the progress that we're making are gifts of God's grace. It's what he gives us in order that we may make progress. Now that's the little mystery but there's another mystery in this text, not just here with verse one, but as we continue on, it has to do with the mystery of joy. Philippians verse four, it's very famous verse, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, rejoice." The progress that we're making, the journey is a journey of joy, it's a journey that should be characterized by joy, step-by-step, and it's a journey in which eternal joy and pleasure and bliss are waiting for us at God's right hand, Psalm 16.
So we're talking about a journey of joy. Well, what's the mystery? Well, how is it that a man could be in prison like Paul was or could be beaten like Paul and Silas were and languishing in prison, and be joyful? How can we have enough stability under us that no matter what is happening in our lives, we can be joyful, no matter what? I want that, don't you? Wouldn't you like to get to the point in your life where it does not matter what's happening around you, you're joyful in Christ?
II. Yearning for Spiritual Stability as a Foundation for Joy
And I think that's really what Paul's getting at, it's joy in the journey. It's joy with stability that can't be shaken. It's a permanent and lasting joy. And we need a foundation for that don't we? We need some kind of foundation, something that isn't going to move. Now, what is joy? If we're thinking about joy, what is it?
I would think that there is a sense that all of us have that we have experienced joy before. We're not going to get joy from reading a dictionary definition. Most of us aren't, alright. Some of us are very literary in that sense and they'll enjoy doing that but we, we get joy or we learn what joy is by living. Just by living. We've had moments of joy and we know what it is. Now, some Christians make a distinction between happiness and joy. I have a hard time making that distinction. I think that there is an internal heavenly happiness and an earth-bound joy. Some people say joy is kind of permanent and not tied to circumstances, whereas happiness is. I don't find that distinction made biblically, but I think we all know that there is a happy, contented, joyful feeling that comes from having good earthly circumstances and there is a happy, joyful feeling that comes, even in the face of terrible earthly circumstances. And that's what we're talking about today. So I'm not making a fine distinction between happiness and joy. Our education in joy comes from living. That's how we learn what joy is. It comes from a mother's smile or a father's game of chase. Some of my kids enjoy that more than others. Some of them stand and cry and want the game to be over, so we don't do that with them anymore.
But others really enjoy it. And they laugh and they run and they have a good time. And there's joy, and so they're learning at an early age, "I like this feeling. I like what's happening to me now. This is happy." Kids know how to laugh and run and play. They really do. And they know what joy is. They know the joy of their favorite ice cream, they know the joy of opening up the gift and it was inside, the toy they were hoping for. They know those joys. And so we learn joy by living, more than by anything. Now, the Bible gives us instruction about joy, interestingly, from earthly situations. We learn about joy by living and so the Bible says, "Okay, you know the kind of joy you feel when such and such happens, that's going to happen to you in heaven." You know the kind of joy you feel by living in this situation? Well, that's exactly what the kingdom of heaven is like. And so, it takes the earthly education we've all had in joy, and it just raises it up to that higher level. For example, God commanded the Israelites to rejoice and to celebrate and have a party at certain times, for example, the feast of booze in Deuteronomy 16, 15. For seven days, celebrate. That's the God we serve. God is not a killjoy. He's commanding, "I want you to have a good time." And if you don't, there's going to be problems. As a matter of fact, C. S. Lewis himself said, "God threatens terrible things if you will not be happy." Now meditate. That's deep and it is true.
Biblical Instruction About Joy From Physical Things
God wants you to be happy with what he provides. He wants you to be happy, and if you're not happy and you're not content, something's broken inside. You've lost your connection to the giver and you don't trust his promises. But God said, "For seven days, you must celebrate." You must have a good time. You must celebrate the feast to the Lord your God at the place the Lord will choose. For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands and your joy will be complete. I'm going to make you happy in the promised land, God says. Deuteronomy 16. There's the joy therefore of plenty to eat. Listen to 1 Chronicles 12:40. "There were plentiful supplies of flour, fig cakes, raisin cakes, wine, oil, cattle and sheep, for there was joy in Israel." Now that's about as earthy as it gets. Now most Christians say, "Now that's not joy, that's happiness." Well, it says joy in the text. You can have joy over a raisin cake, some of you. They enjoyed their raisin cakes. That was a time of celebration. Or a book of Ecclesiastes says in Ecclesiastes 9:7, "Go eat your food with gladness and drink your wine with a joyful heart." Baptists don't listen to that now but you understand what we mean. Drink your wine with a joyful heart for it is now that God favors what you do.
Cheerful looks and good news bring joy. Proverbs 15:30. "A cheerful look brings joy to the heart and good news health to the bones." The joy of a good son. "The father of a righteous man." This is Proverbs 23:24, "The father of a righteous man has great joy, he who has a wise son delights in him." That's a joy of being a father or mother. That's a pleasure. The joy of perfume and incense and good friends, Proverbs 27:9. "Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart and the pleasantness of one's friends springs from his earnest counsel." So the Bible presents all these earthy, sensual things as good grounds for joy. But all it does is it says, "Okay, you know the joy you get when you're smelling a beautiful perfume? Lift it up now to the higher place. Think about heaven. Think about God." And so, it takes the earthy joys that we do know, that are good and raises them up so that we can understand spiritual joy. Isaiah 9 verse 3. Isaiah, when predicting the coming of the Messiah, likened it to a great earthly joy. He says, "You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy, they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder." Two different scenarios. Harvest time, lots of grain coming in, people are happy, like that. That's what it'll be like when Jesus comes.
Or an army. You're going out, you've won the battle and there's huge plunder to divide. That's what it's going to be like when Jesus comes. The kingdom that Jesus brings is a kingdom of joy and so the joy of the harvest or the joy of the plunder, that's what it's like when Jesus comes. "For to unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given." Three verses later. That's the joy that will come when the Messiah is born. Isaiah also compared the joy of salvation to the joy of a delicious banquet. In Isaiah 55:1-2, "Come all you who are thirsty, come to the waters, and you who have no money, come buy and eat. Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread and your labor and what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me. And eat what is good and your soul will delight in the richest affair." This is God speaking through his prophet Isaiah, saying, don't settle for lesser joy. I mean, come on into full joy. I know how to do joy, God is saying. I'm your source of joy and happiness. Don't settle for the other things. But what is he using to teach the lesson? A banquet, where there's plenty to eat and drink. It's an image, an earthly image that he raises up then to the spiritual heights.
And Jesus himself did this, absolutely. In Matthew 13:44, "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, when a man found it, he hid it again and then in his joy, went and sold everything he had and bought it." Now, what a low analogy. Jesus is saying, going to heaven is like finding a box full of gold and jewels hidden in a field. Well, he knew that we couldn't understand except that he used this kind of earthy language. The kingdom of heaven's far better than finding a box of gold in a field somewhere. But you know what that would be like, how would you feel if, I guess the equivalent is you won the lottery? That's what he's saying. In effect, you found incredible wealth, that's what it's like, the kingdom of heaven, it's a matter of joy. And so he's using earthy things that we've been educated in so that we can know what the joy is.
Now the question is, how can we get this kind of joy that survives everything we go through in life? Is that something you want? It's something I want. I want a kind of joy that is enduring, that isn't connected to earthly things that come and go. And Jesus is constantly telling us to do it, "Do not store up treasure on earth where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal, but store up treasure in heaven where no moth and rust destroy and no thief can break in and steal, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be" and that's where your source of joy is going to be.
"I want to give you a joy," Jesus says, that doesn't go away, a lasting joy. The kind of joy, the apostle Paul would say, that can survive and even thrive in imprisonment. The kind of joy that can survive and even thrive when you're starving. The kind of joy that can survive and even thrive when you're getting beaten for your faith, or when a child is sick with a terminal illness. The kind of joy that can survive and thrive no matter what happens to you in this world. That's the kind of joy.
Now, if you're going to have that kind of a joy, you need stability, you need to learn doctrinally how you can even do this, this isn't natural, it's a mystery, isn't it? That we could have Jesus' view of suffering. In Hebrews 12:2 it says, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of God." There was a joy in the cross, not in the actual physical suffering of the nails in the hands and feet, in the scourging, in the blood and all of that, no, but rather in what all of that would accomplish. For the joy set before him, he went through all that, that we could learn of joy like that. Now, that's worth learning and it's worth living.
The ultimate joy, eternal pleasure at God's right hand forever more. That was what was in his mind. What's amazing though, is that it was Jesus' joy to give you joy that's love, isn't it? I get joy out of making you eternally joyful. I think beyond that, the addition of a bunch of people from every tribe and language and people and nation, eternally rejoicing in God, Jesus gained nothing from the cross. He had as much glory afterward as he did before. He got his eternal place back with his heavenly Father, but what he gained was us and our joy with him eternally, and he got great joy and glory out of that. And I think that's a marvelous thing, I want to learn that kind of joy. It's a joy that has no roots whatsoever, in our earthly circumstances, none. It doesn't get better or worse with any events in the newspaper or anything you could read or see in the television, no earthly gift can improve it, no terrorist can blow it up, no thief can mug you and take it from you, no artist could make it more beautiful, no PR guy could make it more appealing to the masses, no engineer can make it stronger.
It's an eternal joy, Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world." he also said in the high priestly prayer, John 17, "Protect them Father for they are not of this world any more than I am of this world." Well, I'm saying your joy isn't of this world either, and therefore nothing can touch it, and frankly, when you have a horrible external circumstance and you're singing and rejoicing it actually will greatly increase your joy as you say, "Wait, a minute, this is unnatural. No, no, this is supernatural. I am rejoicing while in prison, beaten for my faith. How could that be except that God's got his hand on me, I'm going to heaven." Oh, that's a beautiful thing, a joy that's not easily moved. So we need stability for that.
The Great Kobe Earthquake
When I was in Japan, my wife and I, we went through an earthquake. And I'll tell you, that experience is something I will never forget. The stability of everything around me was nothing, was gone. I'll never forget feeling the ground moving under my feet, even worse for the people of Kobe, 5,000 people died in that earthquake, a terrible tragedy. And at that point the stability of everything on earth was shown to be what it is, namely, it's not there. There will come a far greater shaking of the Earth. Once more it says in Hebrews 12, "Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens." There is nothing earthly that will last eternally, nothing. And so therefore we need an unshakable foundation in Christ alone is that unshakable foundation. Jesus said, "Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice, like a wise man who built his house on the rock, rains came down, the streams rose and the winds blew and beat against that house, but it did not fall because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who builds his house on sand, the rains came down, the streams rose and the winds blew and beat against that house and fell with a great crash."
Well, that's people's joy if it's built on sand. And here this text is urging us to build on something stable. Now, stability, I believe, is a measure of spiritual maturity. The more stable you are, the more mature, the more mature you are, the more stable spiritually. It is a sign of great weakness and immaturity that you are easily moved by external circumstances. In James 1, it says, "He who doubts is like a wave of the sea blown and tossed by the wind, that man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord, he is a double-minded man unstable in all he does." So our joy needs to be eternal and set. Mature people are unshakable, solid and immovable like Christ.
It says, "God is our refuge and strength," Psalms 46, "An ever present help in trouble. Now therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea. Though its waves roar and foam and the mountains quake with surging."
III. Seven Steps to Spiritual Stability
Now in this section here, Paul is giving us seven steps perhaps to stable joy. It's a series of injunctions or commands or recommendations that he gives in the Christian life. And I'd like to look at three of them today. Each one of them I think if taken and put into practice will give us a stable joy that that doesn't go away. Now what's amazing to me is that the apostle Paul so skillfully weaves these in with dealing with everyday life circumstances in the Philippian church.
1) Cultivating Harmony in the Church Fellowship
Like the first one for example, cultivating harmony in the church fellowship. Look what he says in verse two and three, "I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the Gospel along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers whose names are in the book of life." Now, Paul has a tremendous love and affection for the Philippian church. He really loves them. He calls them his dear brothers. He says they're his joy and crown. There's a great deal of affection that he has for these people. Very much wants them to experience full joy. But I'll tell you something right now and you know what I'm talking about. Nothing destroys joy faster than human conflict. If you're in a marriage, if you're in a close relation with a friend or in a church, if there is conflict, if there's strife, if there's arguing, I don't know how there can be joy.
And so he goes right to this issue right away here in chapter four dealing with these two ladies, Euodia and Syntyche. Now we've already talked about them. They are the case study, which was the whole reason for Philippians 2, the whole chapter in which he says we should put other's needs ahead of our own and that we should be like Christ and have this mind in us, which was also in Christ. That whole section of Philippians 2 I think is coming out of the conflict that there seems to be between Euodia and Syntyche. Now, I don't know what was going on with these ladies. I really have no idea. It seemed they just didn't like each other. Somebody had said something once that offended and the other person can't forgive. And then they say something that offends and you know how it goes and the relationship is ruptured.
Is that okay? No, not at all. That kind of thing is like a cancer tumor in the body of Christ. And if it's not dealt with, it says in Hebrews that there's a root of bitterness that grows up defiles many and cause trouble. It's got to be cut out. There's got to be a way to get rid of this bitterness and this anger and this unforgiveness. And so he's pleading. There's a strength here of pleading concerning Euodia and Syntyche. I don't think the matter was doctrinal. I think they both loved Paul and loved his message and all that. If there had been a doctrinal side, I think he would've dealt with it there. Now Euodia believes such and such and we've got to refute that. That's not right or Syntyche was wrong about this. I think they just don't like each other.
They agree about everything, but they just aren't getting along. And he asked this man, we don't know who it is. Calls him loyal yokefellow or in the notes "Syzygus" which is a tough name. Aren't you glad it's not in there if you have to do the public reading? Larry and I were talking about that, aren't you glad you don't have to say “Syzygus" this morning? But what it means is... The word literally means being yoked together with somebody. I think the NIV does right in saying that there's a man that Paul considered his yokefellow in the work of the church. And he's saying, "Please help these ladies." Sometimes two people can get themselves into a ruptured relationship where nobody but a third person could come in and as a mediator, talk it through, pray it through until they're united again. But he says, "Loyal yokefellow help these ladies because they're special or they've contended at my side in the cause of the Gospel. Their names are written in the Lamb's book of life. They're godly people other than this conflict," and so let's see what we can do to resolve the church conflict.
I think it's so beautiful that he deals with them gently here. He says their names are written in the book of life. They've contended at my side, see if you can get them back together again. Shouldn't be too hard when you stop and think about it because there's one heaven we're going to, there's one Christ. We believe the same things. Can't we just forgive each other? And so he urges them. And so cultivating harmony in the church fellowship, it's more of a defensive of joy. It doesn't produce joy, but it protects from the great sapping of joy, the locust attack which the conflict does to your joy. It's so hard to have joy in a church or in a family or in any other society humanly if there are these conflicts and these arguments.
2) Determining to Rejoice No Matter What
Secondly, determining to rejoice no matter what. Verse four, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, rejoice." Now this is a very famous verse, Philippians 4:4. But what's interesting to me is that Paul is appealing here to the will. I'm commanding you to rejoice, think about that. It's an interesting thing. You are commanded by God to be joyful today, to be happy. He wants you to be content in your circumstances, and so he's commanding your will. And so what that means is, if you're not joyful right now, if you're not content, you need to work on yourself. You need to think differently. And later in this little section, he's going to tell them what to think about whatever's true, whatever's noble, whatever's right, whatever's pure, lovely or admirable. Think about these things. We'll get to that next week God willing.
But he says, "Whatever you need to do to be joyful, rejoice as an act of the will." Abraham Lincoln said, and I've never forgotten this interesting statement, I don't usually quote him at sermon times, but I think this an interesting statement. He said, "When all is said and done, a man's about as happy as he makes up his mind to be." That is definitely true of a Christian. Why would we be discontent except that we've lost focus on what really matters if we're Christians. Our sins are forgiven. We have eternal life. God is working in and around and through us. Good things are happening. God is here. A man's about as happy as he makes up his mind to be. Do you ever find yourself in a gloomy irritable mood? Do you realize that it's your fault? It has nothing to do with your spouse, it that's nothing to do with your job or your financial situation. It has nothing to do with any of those things, it has to do with you. You're being disobedient to God. It says in Philippians 4:4, "Rejoice in the Lord always."
Now, those of you that are counseling a person who's not joyful, don't say, "God commanded you to be joyful." I don't think that's going to work at that moment, but it is true. God is commanding us at all times to rejoice. Now, look what it says a little more carefully, "Rejoice in the Lord always." There's such a focus on Joy in Philippians. Philippians is called the Epistle of Joy, this is the fourth and fifth time, he's commanded them to rejoice. Philippians 2:18, it says, "So you too should be glad and rejoice with me." Philippians 2:28, he says, "Therefore I have sent him [Epaphroditus] all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you." Philippians 3:1. "Finally my brothers, rejoice in the Lord." Now here, number four and five, "Rejoice in Lord always, and I'll say it again rejoice." But the focus has to be on Christ. Rejoice in timeless, changeless, unshakable things that are true of Christ. Let your focus be on him.
Rejoice in Christ's birth in Bethlehem. Rejoice in Christ's sinless life resisting every temptation. Rejoice in his miracles, every one of them. Rejoice in his teachings, which are unlike any teachings that were ever given. Rejoice in his death on the cross. Rejoice that God's wrath was poured out on him and not on you. Rejoice in his mighty resurrection victory. Rejoice in the Lord, rejoice in his ascension. Rejoice in the fact that he is sitting at the right hand of God the Father Almighty making intercession for his church. Rejoice that some day he's going to return in might and power, and all of his enemies will be put under his feet. Rejoice that there is a perfect kingdom that is coming. Rejoice in these things. And rejoice in the fact that he has begun a good work in you, and that he will carry it on to completion to the day of Christ Jesus. There's so much to rejoice in that is absolutely untied to your circumstances. Rejoice in these things. Rejoice in the Lord always, and pattern your joy after Christ. Learn to focus on Christ and his kingdom and his joy, not so much on the present circumstance. I'm not telling you like a masochist, rejoice in the fact that someone you love was just diagnosed with cancer. That's not what I'm saying.
Rejoice in what the Lord can do in that circumstance instead. Jesus didn't rejoice in the actual nails and wounds that were holding him to the cross, but he was rejoicing in what all of that would accomplish some day, learn to rejoice like that. Rejoice in the Lord always.
3) Learning to be Gentle
And then third, learning to be gentle, look at Verse five, "Let your gentleness be evident to all, the Lord is near." We live, I think in an increasingly harsh and hostile age. Do you sense that, do you sense that people are angry a lot? I feel that. I think they're angry in the roads, they're even angry at Kroger. I'm not going to tell the story, but if you want to come and talk to me about my Kroger experience this week, with the checkout line where you're only supposed to have 12 in there. And I was in the wrong lane and I was... It's a harsh world we live in.
And I didn't mean it. But it's a harsh world. People are angry and they're harsh. And sadly there's harshness even among those committed love relationships. Marriage, there's harshness between husbands and wives, and it's not honoring to God. And then there's a harshness that we might feel toward the outside world. Harshness toward our lot in life. We're commanded to be gentle. Because the Lord is near. This kind of gentleness I think was displayed beautifully by Paul and Silas, when they were beaten in Philippi and they're singing praise songs to God, and there's the earthquake, and the door flies open, and the Philippian jailer thinking he's lost all his prisoners has drawn his sword and is about to kill himself, and Paul and Silas call out and said, "Don't do yourself any harm. We're all here." And he's trembling, and he calls for lights, and rushes in and brings them out and ask, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They didn’t say, "Well don't ask us. You beat us earlier. I have no interest in talking to you. Alright, so just stay away from me. If somebody's going to preach the Gospel, it's somebody else other than me. Because I'm not doing it." Alright? That's a harsh, mean answer. They didn't have any feeling like that. They were delighted to preach the Gospel to this man.
There was a gentleness there, and a willingness to preach and not be vindictive, and not hold that grudge against somebody. Let your gentleness be evident to all. As William Tyndale was being burned to death, he prayed, "Lord open the King of England's eyes." Such a gentleness there. Or even better, I love Jan Hus, he's singing a child Christian song, kind of like, "Jesus loves me," their version as he was dying on the cross. A child like sweet gentleness, no anger, no hostility, just gentleness.
And this story I read, during the reign of communism in Romania, a pastor in Romania was sitting at the breakfast table with his wife and six small children, suddenly the police broke into his home to search the house and arrest him. The police asked him, "Don't you have anything to say? Have you no sorrow or regret?" Pastor said, "You are the answer to what we prayed for today. We just read Psalm 23, that God prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies. We had a table but no enemies. And now you have come. If you would like anything that's on this table, it's yours. Please sit and eat with us." The man said, "You're crazy. How can you say such things? We will take you to prison and you will die there. You'll never see your children again." With gentleness and contentment, the man of God said, "We also read about that today: Though I pass through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil." The officer shouted, "Everyone fears death. I know it, I've seen it on their faces." Pastor answered, "The shadow of a dog can't bite you, and a shadow of death can't kill you. You can kill our bodies, or put us in prison, but nothing bad ultimately can happen to us. We're in Christ, and if we die, he'll take us into his world." I'll tell you something, that kind of gentleness, "A gentle answer," it says, "Turns away wrath." That opens a door for witnessing. And it's very much patterned after Christ. The only description I ever find that Christ gives of himself, concerns this matter of gentleness. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart. And you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, my burden is light." Jesus is gentle.
I had a wonderful conversation earlier with a church member, and we were talking about that passage that I preached on in Matthew, "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, until he leads justice to victory." He is gentle in his touch with us, and so because the Lord is near, we can be gentle in our touch with others. I want to speak especially to husbands. It's a big temptation. I read it in scripture, "Husbands," in Colossians it says, "Husbands love your wives and don't be harsh with them." It's so easy for that manly strength to bubble over into anger and into harshness towards your wife. Don't do it. Because the scripture here says, "Let your gentleness be evident to everybody." Let everyone who knows you say of him or her, it's a gentle person there, gentle person. Now next week, God willing, we're going to look at four more ways that Paul talks about a stable, stable joy. If you walk with the Lord and allow him to work in you, he will give you a joy that cannot be shaken because it has its roots not on earth, but in Heaven.