“Rejoice in the Lord Always!”
(Philippians 4:4-7 – Pentecost 21 – October 25, 2020)
Philippians 4:4-7 – 4Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. 6Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Dear Redeemed in the name of Jesus Christ:
On January 1, 2020, people around the world celebrated. “Happy New Year!” The joyful shouts were heard in every language, as people exchanged well wishes and optimism for the new year. So much has happened since then. How much of this year’s daily news has been happy? How much of it could rather be characterized as anxious, fearful, sad, and disturbing? There has been anxiety in dealing with a pandemic – with sickness, loss of life, loss of work… There has been unrest over questions of justice – with rioting and violence in the streets. There has been tension in politics – with division over handling of issues, and who should be in office. In our personal lives, we have faced trials and challenges in dealing with life in a fallen world. Many are wishing for times of greater health and happiness, peace and security.
Yet in our text, regardless of what trials we pass through in this world, the apostle Paul says: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” In the face of often uncertain and unhappy times, he speaks of our certainty and joy in the Lord that does not depend on outward circumstances. In the face of violent and disturbing news, he speaks of a spirit of gentleness we can share with those around us, as we know the Lord is near, and coming soon to bring us to heavenly joys. In the face of anxious and tumultuous times, Paul assures us: “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
“Rejoice in the Lord Always!” God has good news for us today, through His promises in Christ Jesus. You can rejoice always: 1) In what He has done for you, 2) In what He is doing for you, and 3) In what He will do for you.
1) In what He has done for you
First, consider what God has already done, to bring you His lasting peace and joy in Christ.
When it comes to the peace of God, we are not speaking of merely temporal, worldly peace. Often when people wish for “peace in our time,” they are thinking of a man-made peace, formed by treaties and terms of agreement between formerly hostile nations and peoples. These days, many put their hopes in politics and power to bring about the peace they envision. But lasting peace cannot come about by the works of mankind – not in our time, not in this world. Not as long as we are living in a fallen world, where every soul has inherited the sinful nature of our father, Adam. According to Galatians 5:20-21, the fruit of the sinful flesh continues to to be seen in such things as: “hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders,” etc. Isn’t this just what we see on the news?
And how often do we see the fruit of sin in our own lives? Paul exhorts us in verse 5: “Let your gentleness be known to all men.” That word “gentleness” includes being gracious, patient, and considerate toward others – even those with whom we do not agree on the issues of the day. Again, Paul exhorts us in verse 6: “Be anxious for nothing”; instead, he encourages us to entrust everything to the Lord in prayer. But how often do we do the opposite? We become anxious and agitated about many things, and fail to show that gentle spirit that entrusts all things to the Lord. Our sinful nature leads us to deal with matters in a rash and selfish way. And how often, even in our closest relationships, we have become impatient, inconsiderate, and hurtful toward others.
Sin bring division, enmity, and unrest – not only in human relationships, but in our relationship to God. Romans 8:7 says: “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” According to our sinful nature, try as hard as we may, we cannot obey God’s perfect Law – not when it comes to loving Him above all else, not when it comes to loving our neighbor as ourselves. And according to the Law of God, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) – not only physical death of the body, but eternal death of the soul that is separated from God.
This is the worst news of our time. The world God once created to be perfect is fallen in sin; every soul by nature is fallen in sin. This fallen condition of mankind has shown through history in every form of division, conflict, and war; in all the disease, death, and decay that fills our world. How many try to cope with this fallen condition, by seeking peace and joy in the passing things of the world? How many seek happiness for their soul in money, success, and pleasures? How many try to deal with the anxieties of the day and cover the pain by overindulgence and addictions? Finally, all the short-lived hopes of the world leave the soul unsatisfied and empty.
But God has brought His Good News into the world, a message of true peace and joy in Christ. When our Creator looked on our sin-fallen condition, He took pity on us. He had a plan to make all things new, a plan to restore us to His holy image, a plan to restore fallen creation to its perfect form in a new heavens and a new earth. He had a plan to restore us to a relationship of perfect peace with Himself; and ultimately, perfect peace with one another in heaven.
God sent His Son to be our Savior from sin, to win our peace with God. The Son of God descended from heaven. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary in our flesh, and given the name Jesus – “The Lord Saves.” As the perfect Son of Man, He could stand in place of all fallen mankind. As our Substitute, He humbly submitted to the Law of God, and He fulfilled it all for us. He loved God with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). He resisted all temptation, obeying His Father’s will without any sin. And according to the Law, Jesus loved His neighbor as Himself. He showed that spirit of “gentleness” toward all – not only those who were easy to get along with, but even those who hated Him and sought to take His life. Even for these, He prayed from His cross: “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34).
There on the cross, the Father laid on His Son all the sin of fallen mankind. Jesus felt the division, enmity, and pain caused by all our sin, in our relationship to God and one another. By His precious blood, He took it all away from the sight of God. And now, as God looks on us through the perfect life and innocent death of Jesus, He forgives all our sins and counts us with the righteousness of His Son. Therefore in Christ, we are reconciled to God in perfect peace.
It is this peace which Paul speaks of in verse 7: “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.” It does not depend on changing circumstances in the world, or on subjective feelings in us. It is an objective peace, the blood-bought peace of God He has given us in Christ. By the Good News of His Gospel, God has brought this peace to us. Through baptism and faith, He has adopted us as His children in Christ. He gives us the peace and joy of knowing we are in His loving care, every day of our life in this world; and beyond, in the eternal joys of heaven. Paul says this peace “will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” – no matter what.
2) In what He is doing for you
Therefore he says: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” Rejoice, not only in what He has done for you, but in what He is continuing to do for you.
Here, Paul gives us good reason why we can rejoice and be at peace in our daily life. In verse 5 he says: “Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.” When he says, “The Lord is at hand,” we are first reminded that He is near with all His blessings as our Savior. Remember how, after Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave, just before He ascended to heaven, He told His followers Matthew 28:20: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” As our ascended Savior, He sits at the right hand of His Father ruling all things for our good (Ephesians 1:22). As God in our flesh, He is present with us everywhere, every day. He fully understands what our life is like in this world, and He is powerful to help us in every need.
Therefore Paul says in verse 6: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” Are we anxious about how things will turn out with the pandemic, politics, or anything else in the news? Are we anxious about how things will go in our own lives with issues of health, relationships, finances, or any need? God leaves nothing out in His invitation; “in everything,” He invites us to pray.
As we entrust all things to Him, Paul says in verse 7: “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” God’s peace in Christ is like a sentinel standing guard, protecting our heart and mind. Even when we do not understand how He is working everything out for our good, God turns us to His Word; and His Spirit comforts our heart and strengthens our faith. In His Word He assures us, again and again, of His forgiveness and love for us in Christ. He assures us that, no matter what troubles we face, we can say with Romans 8:37-39: “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
3) In what He will do for you
Therefore, we can say with Paul: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” We rejoice, not only in what the Lord has done for us, but in what He continues to do for us – giving us His peace and salvation in Christ, loving us and caring for us every day in this world. And finally, we rejoice in what He will do for us, when He brings us home to heaven.
Consider again those words of Paul in verse 5: “Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.” In the context, he is especially pointing us to the Lord’s coming again at the Last Day. His coming is at hand; it could be today, tomorrow, any day… This is truly something to look forward to and rejoice in. Before our text, Paul reminds us: “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:20-21).
We can look forward to our Savior’s coming, because Scripture tells us that on that day, He will bring believers to a “new heavens and a new earth , in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:10-13; Revelation 21:1). There at last, in our perfect heavenly home, never again will we have to deal with sin or evil in any form – no more hatred, but perfect love; no more division, but perfect unity; no more pandemics, but perfect health; no more pain, but perfect pleasures; no more unhappiness, but perfect joys.
In a time like this, when there is such much bad news and unrest, when so many are trying to find happiness and peace in the passing things of this world, we have truly good news to share. As those who know our living Lord is at hand, working all things together for our good, in time and eternity, doesn’t this enable us to do as it says: “Let your gentleness be known to all men”? By our words and our lives, we can share the grace and compassion of our Savior with all people. As those who know God’s peace for sinners in Christ, and the joy of His salvation and eternal life, we can proclaim His Good News to all. In the words of the hymn:
Peace to soothe our bitter woes, God in Christ on us bestows;
Jesus bought our peace with God With His holy, precious blood;
Peace in Him for sinners found, Is the Gospel’s joyful sound.
“Rejoice in the Lord always!” Cast all your burdens on Him; “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Amen.