Grace Bible Church
Rejoicing in All Circumstances, Part 2 – Philippians 4:4
(Greek words can be viewed using the Symbol font)
Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
September 12, 2004
Rejoicing in All Circumstances, Part 2
How do you react when your personal circumstances turn sour? What is your response to personal trials whether they be financial, career, medical or personal conflict? If you are a normal person, depending on the particular situation, you might react with either some level of anger from mild irritation to being outright mad, or some level of disappointment ranging from mild discouragement to full depression. Normal humans usual respond to situations that block their goals with some level of anger, and they respond to goals that now appear to be unreachable with some level of depression.
As we come to our text today in Philippians 4 we find that God does not want His children to be normal people. As someone once commented from 1 Peter 2:11 where Peter calls believers “aliens and strangers,” some of us are stranger than others, but God wants us to be that way. He wants us to respond to the sour situations of life in a way that the world finds to be weird. He also wants us to respond and extend ourselves to others with a graciousness that they cannot quite understand. And this is more than just a desire for us on God’s part, this is actually a command.
Turn with me again to Philippians 4:4-14 and follow along as I read. 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your forbearing [spirit] be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things. 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things; and the God of peace shall be with you. 10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned [before,] but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. 14 Nevertheless, you have done well to share [with me] in my affliction.
Rejoicing in the Lord Always
Rejoicing: Recall from last week that though the word “rejoice,” caivrw / chairô, in verse 4 is emotional, but it is not an emotion itself, and it is not dependent upon circumstances. Rejoicing is a response that is dependent upon mindset. It is present or absent because of what you believe, and not the particular situation you are facing, and the Christian’s belief is to transcend present circumstances. So while joy has an emotional element in it, it is actually produced by belief which then results in corresponding actions. That is what makes it different from happiness which is an emotional response that is dependent on circumstances. Pleasant circumstances bring happiness and unpleasant ones bring unhappiness.
Recall as well from last week that the statement in verse 4 to “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice,” is a command. Thought that fact is obscure in the English translation, it is clear in the Greek text. The repetition of the phrase greatly strengthens and emphasizes the command. Our tendency is to take this as an invitation to join with Paul and do something that is good to do. We then do it if and when we feel like it. Instead, this is a command to be carried out at all times whether you feel like it our not. Christians are to be continually, and habitually rejoicing in the Lord always regardless of circumstances. Last week we covered how we are to do this in some detail, so all I will mention about that this morning will be a brief review as a reminder.
The foundation for Christian joy is our beliefs which allow us to view our circumstances from God’s eternal perspective and then respond joyfully as appropriate. Paul gives several specific reasons for Christian joy within the context of chapter four. The first of these, found in verses 5-7, is that there is joy in having our Lord near to us so that we can bring the things that are on our heart before Him in prayer and leave them there knowing that He will take care of them. That is why there is peace. We know God is so intimately involved with us that we are to address Him as “Our Father” (Matthew 6:9). We have confidence in coming to God in prayer through Jesus Christ (Hebrew 4:14-16) and that He will hear and respond to our prayer as we ask according to His will (1 John 5:14,15). But if we pray with wrong motives, as James 4:3 describes, to spend it on our own desires, then there will not be any joy. And if we pray properly, but will not trust God after we ask, then we will still be left anxious and that will steal our joy.
The second source of joy, found in verses 8 & 9, is having our minds dwell on the right things – those things which are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report and are virtuous. As we set our mind to think on these things, we regain the proper perspective that is reflective of God Himself. Since thinking and belief go hand in hand, then thinking on the right things changes our beliefs and becomes another source of joy. If my mind is set on earthly things, then joy will depart because there will no longer be a godly perspective.
The third source of joy, found in verses 10-13, is being content in all circumstances. Contentment is not something that comes automatically, but it has to be learned. It is founded in a belief that God keeps His promise to provide for all my needs as I seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (Matt. 6:25-34). Please note that is what we need, not what we want. Contentment rests on the fact that God is wiser than we are and is sovereign, so if something comes into my life that I do not like, then He still has a purpose for it. And because His love for me is proven in Jesus Christ, I can rest in that. But if I seek after what the world offers instead of being thankful for what the Lord provides, then I will lose my joy because I will be discontent.
Other sources of joy include hearing the gospel (Acts 13:48) and being saved from sin (Acts 8:3) so that our names are recorded in heaven (Luke 10:20). We rejoice when a sinner has godly sorrow and turns to Christ in repentance (2 Cor. 7:9). We have joy in our liberty in Christ because our righteousness is given to us by His grace and we are no longer under the the bondage of the law in trying to become righteous (Acts 15:31). We also rejoice in the hope of our Lord’s return for us (John 16:22). We rejoice in our relationships with other believers. There is the mutual care and love we have for each other (1 Cor. 16:17) as well as the encouragement that comes when other Christians walk in obedience to God, which glorifies Him (Romans 16:19; 2 Cor. 2:5). The Christian even finds joy in suffering with Christ for the cause of the gospel because we are counted worthy of Him (Acts 5:41; 1 Peter 4:13; Matthew 5:12, 13).
Christian joy is solidly based in the truth of God’s word and obedience to it. It is joy that is present when we are walking with the Lord, but it is absent when we walk our own way. There is no more joyful life by any measure than that of a Christian who is walking well with Jesus. At the same time, there is no more miserable life than the Christian who is not walking properly with the Lord. A Christian who tries to keep one foot in the world is in constant turmoil because his actions are in direct contradiction to the change God has made in his soul.
Are you joyful? If not, why not? I am not asking if your circumstances are pleasing to you. I am not asking how you are doing financially. I am not asking if you like how your life is going. I am not asking if all your relationships with others are in harmony. If I was referring to those things, which are the circumstances of life, I would ask if you were happy. And if the issue was happiness, then I am not happy about a lot of things, and I am sure that you are not either. Why? Because my circumstances are not always pleasing to me.
Finances do not work out the way I always want, because as Ecclesiastes 5:11 states, “When good things increase, those who consume them increase. So what is the advantage to their owners except to look on?” I don’t always like how my life is going. I am a normal human being. I am 46 now and I look at my life and wonder if I will be able to accomplish my dreams. Some of them I know I will never do because my body does not function the way it did when I was 26, and that can be frustrating. I don’t like the rush of life that leaves me tired and my head spinning at the end of the day wondering what I was even able to accomplish. It bothers me when I go to put an entry into my diary and can’t remember what I did the day before. I don’t like it when people do not like me. I especially do not like it when I get hear from the grape vine that that people have issues with me and accuse me of things I have not done, but they will not come and tell me about it. The tension in relationships caused by misunderstandings can make me miserable. And what I dislike more than any of these things is to look into the mirror and see a man that has failed at things he really wanted to accomplish. And since all of you have the same red blood of humanity coursing through your veins, I know all these things affect you the same way, for that is the normal way of all humanity.
But God is commanding us here to be something that is abnormal. God does not want us to be that way. We are aliens and strangers in this world, citizens of heaven, and He wants us to live as such.
Normal humans are plagued with the “I” disease. “I like,” “I loath,” “I love,” “I hate,” “I want,” “I don’t want.” Circumstances cloud our vision and so that we turn inward to view life from our own “I”’s instead of God’s desires. The world starts to revolve around “me” instead of God’s will. When that happens not only is joy lost, but even happiness will soon be gone, for nothing can satisfy the consuming hunger of selfishness.
God has bought us with the blood of His own Son, Jesus Christ, adopted us into His family and made us citizens of heaven. On that basis He commands us to clean out the infected and foul wounds of “I” disease through repentance and bring healing to our damaged souls through the antibiotic of humility along with a large dose of daily vitamin “YOU” to keep us healthy. That is vitamin “you” as in God and other people instead of yourself. Remember Paul’s command back in chapter 2:3,4, “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Only by such humility can there be unity and harmony in the church.
When I focus on my circumstances and turn inward I will quickly lose my joy and become very unhappy. Depending on the situation I might even reach the extremes of becoming very angry or very depressed. When I focus on what God is doing in the midst of my circumstances and humbly walk with Him in seeking His will in my own life and others, then the joy returns even though circumstances have not changed. The situation may remain miserable, but the attitude is radically different. But now the question comes up, how do you gain that attitude when you feel so miserable? How can you obey the command to “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice,” when emotionally what you want to do is complain or sulk? You have already been given the foundation and sources for rejoicing in all circumstance, but how is that actually put into practice? Turn over to Hebrews 13:15.
As the writer of Hebrews is concluding the book with summations of actions we need to take in view of all that he has taught throughout the book about the superiority of Jesus Christ, he says this in verse 15. “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” We move out of our self-centeredness when we change our focus from ourselves to God and give Him the praise that is due to Him. The text specifically states that this is a sacrifice. Why?
In order to praise God you must give up complaining against Him, which in reality is accusing Him of not being fair. Instead, you must look to see how He is wonderfully gracious and merciful. In order to praise God you must give up your personal view of things and seek to understand them from His perspective. In order to praise God you must set aside your focus on your negative circumstances and instead put forth the effort to “count your many blessings” and then lift up your voice to Him. In order to praise God you can not feel sorry for yourself, or hold grudges, or work to see your own will be done. You must be in submission to God and seek His will to be done. These “sacrifices of praise” are the “fruit of lips that give thanks to His name,” and the practical outworking of such sacrifices of praise is “doing good and sharing.” These things please God.
We gain an even better understanding of the relationship between the sacrifice of praise to God and rejoicing in the Lord always when we see what praise means. Webster defines the verb, “praise,” to mean: 1: to express a favorable judgement of : commend 2: to glorify (a god or saint) esp. by the attribution of perfections. The noun is defined as: 1 a: an expression of approval: commendation b: worship. 2 a: value; merit. Synonyms for praise are: applaud, commend, compliment, congratulate, celebrate, exalt, honor, laud, worship, acclaim, accolade, appreciate, approve, adore, honor. There are also many synonyms for praise in both Hebrew and Greek.
Let me give you my own definition in trying to put all of this together: To “praise” is to demonstrate approval of the character and/or action of someone or something. There are many different ways to demonstrate such approval, and that is why there are so many different synonyms for praise. It can be done with spontaneous outbursts of joy – “hallelujah,” “Amen,” etc. It can be done with the arts: song, music, dance, paintings, sculpture, etc.. Praise is given through our glad service for Him, with thanksgiving, and by reflectively blessing His name. We praise the Lord with all that is within us, with all our being which includes our emotions, our minds, and even our bodies. Praise of God is to occur in good and bad circumstances, for He is at work in all circumstances and is worthy of our honor and thanksgiving.
If we are going to keep the commandment to rejoice in the Lord always, then we must also learn to give the sacrifice of praise to God. While we cannot control our emotions, we can direct them through what we put in our mind and the actions we take. Giving praise to God directs our mind to focus on Him, His attributes and His actions, and then follow up with action that demonstrates approval of Him. Praise is easy to give when circumstances are good, but it is also to be done when they are bad. 1 Peter 1:6,7 even tells us that we cause others to praise God when our faith in Him is proven by our perseverance through trials.
I have pointed out many times that Paul does this in Philippians 1 by rejoicing in what God was doing through him among the praetorian guards even though Paul would have preferred not to have been imprisoned. He rejoiced that Christ was preached even though he would have preferred that everyone’s motives had been correct. Paul had rejoiced in jail before right there in Philippi. In Acts 16:22-25 we find that Paul and Silas were taken prisoner by the government official, beaten and thrown into prison. Not a great situation by any means, but if you were there about midnight you would have found Paul and Silas “praying and singing hymns of praise to God.”
In Psalm 42:5 David is in emotional despair over the rebellion of his son Absolom, but his hope is still in God and he is determined to still praise Him. In Psalm 69:29,30, David is “afflicted and in pain,” but his hope of salvation is still in God, so he “will praise the name of God with song, and shall magnify Him with thanksgiving.”
The emotional distress we have may be from our own sin, but even in that situation we can offer the sacrifice of praise. In Joshua 7 we find the story of Achan who had stolen booty from the conquest of Jericho even though God had strictly forbidden that. The result was a defeat of the army at the little town of Ai. After the lot falls against Achan, Joshua says to him, (7:19) “My son, I implore you, give glory to the LORD , the God of Israel, and give praise to Him; and tell me now what you have done. Do not hide it from me.” Glory and praise were given to God by the confession of Achan. We give praise to God when we confess our sins. David recognized this in Psalm 51, and after confessing his sin, he asks for God’s cleansing and that He would open his lips that he might declare God’s praise (Ps 51:14,15).
There is no clearer picture of the resolve to give praise to God in difficult circumstances than Habakkuk 3:17-19. God told this prophet that he would use the wicked Assyrian people to punish Israel by defeating them and carrying them away to a distant land. Habakkuk responds “Though the fig tree should not blossom, And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail, And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold, And there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, And make me walk on my high places.” His hope remained in the Lord though he knew terrible tragedy was coming upon his rebellious nation.
We are to praise the Lord at all times. Psalm 34:1 “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” Psalm 146:2 “I will praise the Lord while I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.” Psalm 61:8 “So I will sing praise to Thy name forever.” When we are giving such praise, we are fulfilling Paul’s injunction to “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
Are you joyful? If not, why not? My circumstances are not always pleasing to me, but I can still rejoice by giving God the sacrifice of my praise. My finances may fall short, but I still rejoice that God provides for my needs. I may not like how my life is going, but I give honor to God who is always directing my steps to a better path than what I would have chosen. I do this by boldly stepping forward in trust of Him. I may not ever accomplish some of my dreams, but I know God will enable me to accomplish much better things I never dreamed of – He already has, and therefore I praise Him. I do not like the rush of life, but in Christ I find rest for my soul, and therefore I rejoice in Him. I prefer people to like me, but when they don’t, I take joy in knowing God’s love for me. Tension in relationships can get me down, but I can rise up to bless God because He enables me to both forgive and seek forgiveness and bring about reconciliation. I may look in the mirror and see a failure in many respects, but I can press on with praise on my heart and lips because He not only forgives me, but glorifies Himself in the midst of my weaknesses. I know that those of you who are diligently striving to walk with Jesus Christ feel the same way as I do, for He is doing the same thing in your life. The world may consider you weird for rejoicing in the Lord always and giving Him the sacrifice of praise, but that is what is to be normal for the Christian.
We are going to sing Hymn 169, Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart, as a corporate response of praise and rejoicing. That means that every believer present sings regardless of how good or bad you sing and whether you feel like it or not. Worship of God is about Him, not about how you feel. Your only other choice is to remain seated and confess your sins, and then when you know you have been forgiven, you can stand up and join the rest of us. After the Hymn we will be giving you a chance to personally praise the Lord. You can state something He has done for you. You can laud Him for one of His many attributes. You may quote or read a passage of Scripture, or just say “hallelujah.” Please stand and join me in Hymn 169, Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart.
Sermon Study Sheets
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times “joy” or “rejoice” is said. Talk with your parents about how you can give the sacrifice of praise and rejoice in all circumstances.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
How do you react when your personal circumstances turn sour? How do normal people react to blocked goals? Unreachable goals? What does it mean to “rejoice” (vs. 4)? What is the significance of this being a command? How does that affect your life? What is the foundation for Christian Joy? What three sources of rejoicing does Paul mention in Philippians 4? What are some other sources of joy? List them. Are you joyful? If not, why not? What would be a normal response to your circumstances if you were not a Christian? Does God want you to be “normal”? Why or why not? What is the “I” disease? How much does it affect you? What is the remedy for “I” disease? How are you doing at obeying Philippians 2:3,4? If not well, then what keeps you from doing better? What is your plan to improve? What is the “sacrifice of praise to God” (Heb. 13:15)? What are some of the things that you must “sacrifice” in order to give praise to God? List them. Define “praise.” What are some of the ways in which praise can be done? If you cannot control your emotions, what can you control? How will that affect your emotions? How did Paul demonstrate a heart of rejoicing? Give examples. How did David praise God? Why did he praise God? How did Achan (Joshaua 7) praise God? What was the result? How did Habakkuk give the sacrifice of praise? Could you do what Habakkuk did – why or why not? List how God’s goodness overcomes your circumstances.
Sermon Notes – September 12, 2004
Rejoicing in All Circumstances, Part 2 – Philippians 4:4
Rejoicing in the Lord Always
joy (caivrw / chairô)
Proper Prayer (vs. 5-7)
Minds that dwell on the Right Things (vs. 8,9)
Learning to be Content (vs. 10-13)
Being a Christian
Relationships with Other Believers
Trials & Tribulations
Circumstances of life bring unhappiness
The “I” disease
The Sacrifice of Praise
What is sacrificed
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