Grace Bible Church
Rejoicing in All Circumstances, Part 1 – Philippians 4:4
(Greek words can be viewed using the Symbol font)
Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
September 5, 2004
Rejoicing in All Circumstances, Part 1
There is an old story about four men traveling on a train in England in one of those compartment where two seats face one way, and the other two seats face them. These men did not know each other, but in the course of conversation, one of the men said that he could accurately guess the occupation of the other three.
He carefully looked at the first man and said, “I believe you are a medical doctor.” The man replied that he was correct and asked how he knew. He said it was a combination of his dress, his professional manner, his interest in the health of others, and the black case that he assumed was a medical bag.
He then looked over the second man and said that he was a teacher, and if he guess was correct, one who worked with grade school children. This man also said that he was correct and asked how he knew. He replied that it was also his manner of dress, his ability to express himself clearly, intelligently, yet simply, about a wide variety of subjects, and that he had noticed earlier the man’s interest in the children that he met.
He then looked at the third man who was also nicely dressed and was carrying a briefcase with several books in it. He guessed the man was a preacher, to which the man replied, “I am not. I have just been sick lately.”
Too often too many Christians walk around with an edge of seriousness that spills over into appearing down, perhaps depressed or even sour. While there are a lot of negative things we must contend with in this life, that is not the way God desires His followers to live. While 1 Timothy 3 tells us that a mature Christian should be “grave” and “sober-minded,” that does not mean that we have to refrain from smiling and act like we have one foot in the grave. The Christian life is to be one of joy, a joy that transcends the negative things in life.
I have mentioned several times during the course of our study of the book of Philipians over the last 8 months that one of the reasons that I choose to preach through this book was due to this issue of joy. I realized that there were times that my outlook in life was not very joyful, and since the theme of Philippians is being joyful in all circumstances, I wanted to study it and learn how I might change and be more joyful. I wanted to develop the mindset that Paul had that allowed him to not only be content, but also joyful, even when circumstances were tough. From my own perspective, this study has been helping me to do just that. I hope that you have also been reaping these same very practical benefits as you have been studying Philippians.
This morning, and in the weeks to come, we are going to concentrate on that very theme of being joyful in all circumstances. Here in chapter 4 Paul lays before us the practical means by which we learn to be joyful regardless of circumstances. I will give a brief overview of those today along with listing out what I call “joy stealers” and “joy givers.” In the following weeks we will look more in depth at what Paul says about these in the remainder of the chapter.
Remember that Paul introduces this chapter with the command to “stand firm in the Lord.” The meaning of the command is found in what Paul said in the earlier chapters about living the Christian life. To “stand firm” is to hold your ground and resist all effort to get you to retreat. We are to continue to live in godliness despite all the things that exist that pressure us to give up and return to our sin. We must stand firm against the desires of our flesh, the pressures of this world and the attacks of our adversary, the devil. Paul has already given us in the first three chapters many specific things we are to do in living the Christian life and which we need to stand firm upon. We can be confident that God will complete the work He began in us (1:6), but we must stand firm in conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel (1:27). We must remain united with other believers by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, joined in spirit and intent on one purpose (2:2). We must continue to develop the mindset of Jesus Christ in our lives and resist the rise of pride and self interest that would destroy our humility and proper concern for others (2:3f). We must defy the desire to express our selfishness with grumbling and complaining, but instead continue to prove ourselves blameless and innocent children of God by holding fast the word of life (2:14-16). The temptation to look back must be resisted. Instead, we reach forward by pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (3:13,14). We are to follow the pattern God has given us in other godly people and refuse to follow the examples of those whose minds are set on earthly things (3:17-19). We stand firm in all these things because we are even now citizens of heaven who eagerly await Jesus’ return from there at which time He will transform our bodies and we will be like Him (3:20,21).
Here in chapter 4, Paul gives four more specific ways in which to stand firm. We are to work through problems and live in harmony (2,3). We are to maintain a joyful spirit through proper prayer (4-7). We are to keep their minds focused on what is godly (8,9), and we are to learn to be content in our circumstances by trusting in the Lord (10-19). It is out of all this background that Paul says in verse 4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” It is important to note here that this is not an invitation, though if it were, it would be both an appropriate and wonderful invitation. This is in the present imperative case. It is a command to do something now and continue doing it. Christians are to be continually, and habitually rejoicing in the Lord always. The repetition of the phrase greatly strengthens and emphasizes the command. The Christian is to be joyful in the Lord in all circumstances. How then are we to do this? What are the sources of this ability to rejoice?
Recall first of all what I have already said several times about joy. We often use happiness and joy as synonyms for each other, but there is a distinction which is brought out here. Happiness is an emotional response to pleasant circumstances. When things are going well, there is happiness. When things are going badly, there is unhappiness. Joy is different. Though joy, cairw / chairô, is emotional, it is not an emotion itself and it is not dependent upon circumstances. Joy is a response that is dependent upon mindset. Joy is present or absent because of what you believe, and the Christian’s belief is to transcend present circumstances. Joy is also more than an emotional response for while there is certainly an emotional feeling that accompanies it, it is produced by belief which result in corresponding actions.
Paul’s own reaction to the circumstances he was in while he is writing to the Philippians is a good case in point. Paul is not happy about being imprisoned. There are many situations he would rather have been in than being chained to a soldier. Paul is not happy about people purposely trying to cause him distress. However, Paul is still joyful in the midst of the unhappy circumstances he found himself in. Why? Because Paul’s beliefs transcended the circumstances to understand what God was doing in the midst of his trial, and that allowed him to react with a joyful attitude and joyful actions despite the unpleasant situation. He praised God that the gospel had become known among the praetorian guard, and he was thankful that Christ was proclaimed even if not all those doing it had the right motives. His belief that God was working resulted in the joyful expression of praise and thanksgiving.
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 more specific reasons for Christian joy.
The immediate context gives us the first of these “joy givers.” It is a source of our being able to rejoice in the Lord always. The passage here says, “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.”
We will talk about this in depth over the next few weeks, but the point this morning 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 and leave them there knowing that He will take care of them. That is why there is peace. False religions do not have this confidence because they never know if their god hears them or not. We do. He does. False religions do not know if their god cares about them or not. We do. He does. False religions do not know if their god will respond. We do. He does. Our God is intimately involved with us and has proven both His love and direct intervention in our lives when Jesus Christ died for our sins in our place on the cross of Calvary.
Hebrews 4:14-16 comments about our access to God telling us that through Jesus Christ we can “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.” 1 John 5:14,15 tells us about our confidence that our God hears and responds saying, “And this is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us [in] whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.” Jesus invites us in Matthew 6:9 to come to God and address Him with a term of personal endearment, intimacy, and love – “Our Father.” This confidence in the God we pray to coupled with His sovereignty allows to rest in Him and experience a peace that is beyond understanding. A peace that is present in the midst of turmoil and danger. This peace is a source of our joy in the Lord.
A second “joy giver” is having our minds dwell on the right things. Paul says in verses 8,9, “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.”
Notice that Paul is telling them to do this because it would be following the example of how he lived his own life. This was one of the ways that enabled Paul to experience God’s presence in his own life. 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.
A third “joy giver” Paul mentions here in chapter 4 is learning the secret of being content in all circumstances. Paul writes in verses 10-13, “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. Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 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. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
We will discuss the principle Paul gives here in great detail in the future, but for now, just note that this was something Paul learned. It did not come automatically. It took time for him to understand and put into practice the principle that allowed him to be content regardless of the current circumstance that he was in. He wants us to learn the same thing that we might also live with such contentment as he did, and contentment is a necessary component of joy.
Contentment is founded in a belief that God does supply all that we need, as he mentions to the Philippians in verse 19 – And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” But please note that this is all you need, not all that you want. This contentment rests on the fact that God is wiser than we are, so if something comes into my life that I do not like, then He has a purpose for it. That includes troubles and trials. Paul writes in Romans 5 concerning this saying, “but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” This love was demonstrated to us in Christ dying for us while we were yet sinners (vs. 8).
There is joy in knowing God’s love for us and trusting that He will provide what we need. Jesus addressed this issue of God’s provision in Matthew 6:25-34. He said we are not to be anxious for our lives; what we should eat, or drink or clothe ourselves with. God provides all these things for the animals and flowers, and He will provide them for us. Jesus said to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” There is joy in knowing that God is looking out for us to not only provide what we need for life, but to do what is best for our eternal good.
What are some other “joy givers” we find in the Scriptures?
True Christian joy begins with 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). Our freedom from the bondage of the law in trying to become righteous and instead having liberty in Christ because our righteousness is given to us by His grace is another source of rejoicing (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). That is why we also rejoice when a Christian who is in sin has godly sorrow and repents (2 Cor. 7:9).
The Christian even finds joy in suffering with Christ for the cause of the gospel (Acts 5:41; 1 Peter 4:13) because we are counted worthy of Him, for as Jesus said in Matthew 5:12, 13, that is the way the prophets before us were treated, and our reward in heaven will be great. We also rejoice in the normal trials and tribulations of life because through them God is maturing us and making us more like Jesus (Romans 5:3-8; James 1:2-4).
What each of these sources of joy have in common is a godly view of life. 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. That brings us to the next part of the sermon – what can steal the joy of a Christian?
Joy stealers are generally the opposite of what gives us joy.
Whereas coming to God in proper prayer and resting in His care for us brings us peace and joy, failure to pray properly and rest in His care removes our joy. Improper prayer leaves us miserable because it only highlights our own sinfulness. James 4:1-4 tell us that the source of quarrels and conflict between even Christians is because of our sinful desires to have our own way. This spills over into prayer when we ask with wrong motives that we may spend it on our own pleasures. God is neither a magic genie who grants us our wishes because we rubbed the lamp correctly, nor is He a doting grandfather who likes to spoil the grandchildren. He is the sovereign creator of the universe who made us for His own good pleasure. He does not exist for us, but we for Him.
Proper prayer that does not rest in the Lord also leaves you without joy. We may ask correctly for the right things, but if we do not trust Him to do what is right after we ask, then we will still be left anxious about it. Improper prayer and prayer without trust steals joy.
Letting your mind be filled with the wrong things also steals joy. If you think about things that are false, dishonest, unjust, impure, ugly, wicked or condemnable then don’t be surprised if you lack joy. Frankly, I think this is one of the major problem areas for many Christians. Consider that most professing Christians may go to church for a few hours on a Sunday, but then the rest of the day and the rest of the week they fill their minds with whatever the secular media is dishing out. You cannot have a godly perspective on life if what you are listening to most of the time are the thoughts of the ungodly, and entertainment is a major avenue for this to happen. We will talk more about this in a few weeks.
A third joy stealer is discontentment. Paul told Timothy in 1 Tim. 6:8-10, “And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content, But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang.”
We become discontented and lose our joy when we want what the world wants. A secular book was written some years ago that addressed this very phenomena in America, that though we are among the wealthiest people who have every lived, we are also among the most discontent because the quest for more is never ending. Joy is based in an attitude, not in circumstances.
This problem of discontentment becomes even worse when we somehow think we deserve what other people have. That is not an uncommon idea in a socialistic society. This is a devastating attitude in a Christian because it means they do not believe God is giving them what they need. This twisted view ends up judging God’s goodness based on personal affluence. That destroys joy and leaves you only on the ever shifting sands of circumstantial happiness just like any non-Christian. Let me clear here. God is good whether you have anything or not. The fact that you are even breathing is a gift of God’s goodness to you.
Other joy stealers would include doubting your salvation by faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Falling into legalism in which you seek to gain righteousness through obedience to the law instead of rejoicing in Jesus’ righteousness which has been imputed (given) to you, and then obeying Him as a response of love.
Our joy is also lost when there is tension in our relationships with other believers. That is one reason why Paul starts chapter 4 with a plea for Euodia and Syntyche to work out their problems with each other and live in harmony. Jealousy of others also steals our joy because is robs us of being able to rejoice with those who do something better than we do. As Christians, we are all part of the same body, so when one part of the body is honored, the whole body reaps the reward (1 Cor. 12:26). Since we are all working together for the same goal of glorifying God, then why would a Christian ever be jealous of another Christian except they want their own honor instead of God’s.
The bottom line of what steals a Christian’s joy is selfishness. It is lost when you function as if your life was about your own kingdom instead of God’s.
The only way in which Paul’s command to “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice, ” can be fulfilled is to have and maintain a right relationship with Jesus Christ. Why? Because life is then lived based on eternal truth and belief that does not change instead of the ever changing circumstances that may or may not be pleasurable. The Christian’s pleasure is to walk with God and serve Him even as Jesus did. Anything less than this will result in a loss of joy because all that is left is the temporal world of fluctuating situations and the worldly pursuit of fleeing happiness.
Follow Paul’s example and those of the many godly people that have gone before you. Turn from the enticements of your own flesh, flee from the temptations of this world and resist the schemes of the devil and seek to grow in your understanding of our great God and humbly walk with Him submitting your will to His. In that way you will be like Paul in rejoicing in all circumstances.
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 the difference between happiness and joy as well as what makes you happy and the source of your joy.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
Why do so many Christians seem to lack joy, even to being sour or depressed? What is the importance of “standing firm in the Lord”? What things are we to “stand firm” in doing? What does it mean to be joyful? How does that differ from happiness? What is the foundation for Christian joy? What is the relationship between joy and proper prayer, thinking about the right things, and learning to be content? Explain each and how they are sources of joy. What are some of the Lord’s promises concerning His care and provision for us? What are some of the other “joy givers” found in Scripture? What is common to all of these? What is the fundamental nature of a “joy stealer”? Name some of them. How do improper prayer, thinking about the wrong things and discontentment steal joy? What is your level of joy? Why? What needs to change? When will you change it?
Sermon Notes – August 29, 2004
Rejoicing in All Circumstances, Part 1 – Philippians 4:4
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
Minds that dwell on the Wrong Things
Conflict with Others
Selfishness steals Christian joy
Christian joy only comes with having a proper relationship with Jesus Christ and maintaining it.
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