To Rejoice is a Choice
July 3, 2005 | Brian Bill
Let me tell you about a great church we attended while we were on vacation. When we pulled into the parking lot we saw a bunch of cars and were immediately struck by the smiles on people’s faces as they were walking into the building. When we got inside we were greeted by a number of gregarious members and heard the sounds of laughter coming down the hallway. As we made our way to the sanctuary we were greeted again and sat near the back where several others smiled and shook our hands. The music catapulted us into a time of rejoicing and reverence. The pastor then delivered one of the most creative and practical messages I have heard in a long time. When the service ended we met some more people and were again struck by their friendliness and obvious joy for the Lord. As we pulled out of the parking lot, I looked once more at the church sign just so I could recommend it to you. Perhaps you’ve already been there. It’s called Pontiac Bible Church!
One member came up to me after the service and made the statement that the church had two great speakers when I was gone. His only complaint was that they were so good he missed his normal sermon naptime! He must have thought this was pretty funny because he guffawed uncontrollably. Those around him joined in his jubilation. Without a doubt this is a church that likes to laugh, even if it’s at my expense.
Before we jump into Philippians 4:4-9, let me make the obvious observation that these verses come right after verses 2-3 that deal with getting along with others. See how a vacation has made me more astute? In other words, if you’re in the midst of conflict, or you’re trying to be a peacemaker in a situation, the principles we will study today have tremendous application to you. While I believe that these verses certainly are related to getting along with others, I think they have a much wider application and speak to any and all situations we find ourselves in, whether its conflict or a crisis or other complications.
In this well-known passage, Paul challenges us to develop three attitudes. These attitudes must be demonstrated in three actions. And when we act, God gives us two assurances.
Attitudes to Develop
1. Be joyful always (4).
The first attitude is to make the choice to rejoice. Look at verse 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” It’s as if Paul knows that the Philippians are not going to get this right away so he repeats the requirement to rejoice. Interestingly, the command to rejoice is in the present tense and the active voice. We could translate it this way: “Go on being glad in the Lord.” Let’s notice a few other things.
- Joy is the theme of Philippians, being stated or implied 16 times in this short book.
- Joy is different than happiness. Happiness is situational and often superficial; joy is sustained and secure. You might not have anything to be happy about today; but if you are redeemed there are always reasons to rejoice.
- Joy is centered in the Lord, not in circumstances. People change, situations change, bad news comes, but the Lord remains the same. Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the LORD…” You can’t always change your circumstances but you can know that underneath everything lie the everlasting arms of God.
- Joy is possible 24/7. We are to rejoice in the Lord always. This command is similar to 1 Thessalonians 5:16: “Be joyful always.”
- Rejoicing in the Lord is an action, not a feeling. Practice praising God when you don’t feel like it. When things are falling apart run to the Rock and rejoice in the Lord. God chooses what we go through; we choose how we go through it.
- Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). If you want to be more joyful, get closer to Jesus. In John 15:11, Jesus says that His joy is in us so that our joy may be “made full.
2. Be gentle to everyone (5).
Gentleness breathes grace into the midst of tension
Verse 5 gives us the second attitude to cultivate, which incidentally, is also a fruit of the Spirit: “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” This word is variously translated as “forbearance,” “mildness,” “moderation,” “large-heartedness,” and “inner calmness.” This attitude is especially important when you’re in the midst of conflict because it’s easy to get defensive or go into attack mode. Eugene Peterson offers this helpful paraphrase: “Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them.” To be gentle has the idea of yielding to others. It’s the opposite of contentiousness. Gentleness breathes grace into the midst of tension. Remember the truth of Proverbs 15:1: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
When people think of you, do they consider you to be gentle or gruff? Are you abrupt and abrasive in your conversations with Christians? Are you intolerant with those who are still investigating Christianity? This same word is used in 2 Corinthians 10:1 to describe the gentleness of Jesus: “By the meekness and gentleness of Christ…” Mark Roberts says, “The more Christ is alive in you, the more you will be known as a gentle person.”
3. Jettison anxiety (6a).
An attitude of joy and gentleness will go a long way in helping resolve outward conflict and will provide the foundation for inner peace. Verse 6a describes the third attitude we are to develop: “Do not be anxious about anything…” This provides a helpful corrective to what might be the number one sin of Christians today – anxious worry. Someone has said that there are more people addicted to anxiety than to all the other addictions combined. This verse commands us to not worry. The King James says it even stronger: “Be anxious for nothing.” The construction in the original language forbids the continuance of an action already habitually going on. It literally means, “Not even one thing.” The word “anxious” means, “to divide or be drawn in different directions.”
I heard about a woman who for many years couldn’t sleep at night because she worried that her home would be burglarized. One night her husband heard a noise in the house, so he went downstairs to investigate. When he got there he found a burglar and said to him, “Could you come upstairs and meet my wife? She’s been waiting for you for 10 years!” A real burglar can steal your stuff once; but worry can steal your soul night after night, for many years. I’m told that over 100 diseases can be directly attributed to worry!
Charlie Brown once said to Linus: “I worry about school a lot.” He thought a little longer and then said, “I worry about worrying so much about school.” He reflected some more and then concluded, “Even my anxieties have anxieties!” Friends, worry is wasting today’s time to clutter up tomorrow’s opportunities with yesterday’s troubles.
I encourage you to take a piece of paper and answer these three questions:
- What did I worry about this week?
- How much time did I spend worrying? 30 minutes? An hour? All day? All week?
- What did my worrying accomplish?
Some years ago a professor at a leading American university studied the things people worry about. His research discovered that:
- 40% never happens
- 30% concerns the past
- 12% are needless worries about health
- 10% are about petty issues
- 8% are legitimate concerns
That means that 92% of our “worry time” is wasted energy. But Paul is saying that we are not to even worry about the 8%. Why is that? Because when we worry we’re really saying that God can’t take care of us, that our problems are bigger than His promises. R.H. Mounce once said, “Worry is practical atheism and an affront to God.” Rick Warren writes, “Worry is the warning light that God is not really first in my life at this particular moment because worry says that God is not big enough to handle my troubles.” Jill Briscoe adds, “We can worry or we can worship.” It’s like the weary Christian who was awake all night trying to hold the world together by his worrying. Then he heard the Lord gently say to him, “You go to sleep now, Jim; I’ll sit up.” Said the robin to the sparrow, “I would really like to know why these anxious human beings rush about and hurry so.” Said the sparrow to the robin, “I think that it must be, that they have no Heavenly Father, such as cares for you and me.”
When we worry we are assuming responsibility for things God never intended us to have
In Matthew 6, Jesus spends 10 verses analyzing the addiction of anxiety and urges us to not act like the pagans who do not believe in God. Worry is the ultimate act of rebellion against God because when we worry we’re really saying that God is dead; and if He’s alive, then He’s not able to do anything about our situations. When we worry we are assuming responsibility for things God never intended us to have. Let me read some of the phrases from verses 25-34:
“Do not worry about your life…”
“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
“And why do you worry about clothes?”
“Oh, you of little faith. So do not worry…”
“But seek first His kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Jesus doesn’t want us to be saturated with stress. In Luke 21:34, He warns, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life…” Worry can weigh us down, and like an anchor, anxiety can cause us to sink spiritually. Even worse, stress can strangle us. Anxiety comes from an old English word that means “to strangle.” It was used to refer to the practice of wolves killing sheep by biting them around the neck, strangling their prey to death. That’s the picture Jesus paints of how worry can wipe us out in Matthew 13:22: “The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.”
If you’re sinking with stress today, follow the clear teaching of 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” We’re told to not be anxious but we’re also given something to replace the attitude of anxiety. That leads to the three action steps we’re to take.
Actions to Demonstrate
1. Pray about everything (6b).
Paul’s a realist so he knows that we can’t just determine to not be anxious and suddenly be flooded with peace. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t will yourself to worry-free living. The path to inner peace passes through prayer, in everything – big things, the small things, our needs, wants, and worries. Look at the last part of Philippians 4:6: “But in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Chuck Swindoll offers an easy-to-remember sure-cure antidote to anxiety that we need to repeat over and over again in order to get it in our minds:
WORRY ABOUT NOTHING,
PRAY ABOUT EVERYTHING
Our lives are to be saturated with prayer. One pastor put it this way: “Pray so much that worry has to take a number and stand in line.” Let’s look at these three different words that are closely related and yet distinct.
- Prayer. This means “to humbly prostrate yourself before someone” and has the idea of adoration and worship. As Americans we can celebrate our independence this weekend; but as Christians we must declare our complete dependence upon God. To pray means to focus on the character of God by adoring His attributes and His names (that’s why we’ve left the banners up on the wall). It’s amazing how meditating on the magnitude of God will put your problems into their proper perspective.
- Petition. The word for “petition” refers to the earnest sharing of our problems and needs. If you’re worried or anxious, let God know what is pulling you in different directions. Spell out what is strangling you.
- Requests. When we make a request we are asking God’s direct help regarding our specific needs. Make your requests as detailed as possible.
Notice that we’re to enter His presence with “thanksgiving,” being careful to have an attitude of gratitude for what God has already done for us. Thankfulness helps us keep our problems in perspective. This phrase could be translated, “after gratitude.” We’re not only to pray with thanksgiving, but only after we’ve given thanks, is it time to make our requests.
3. Prepare your mind (8).
Some of us are stressed out simply because we’ve been allowing our minds to focus on things that bring us down. Wrong thinking leads to wrong feelings which can lead to wrong living. Conversely, right thinking leads to right living. What we put into our minds determines what comes out in attitudes and actions. What we believe determines how we behave. Warren Wiersbe offers a helpful saying: “Sow a thought, reap an action. Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.” Proverbs 23:7 in the King James version puts it this way: “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
Some of us are neither joyful nor peaceful because we allow our thoughts to control our behavior. Did you know that the average person has 10,000 separate thoughts each day? That works out to 3.5 million thoughts a year. I read an article in WORLD magazine recently that captures how easily our thoughts can head south. Here are some highlights, or lowlights, from just 17 minutes in one woman’s day as she drove home from a convenience store:
She conjures up three comebacks she could have hurled at Ellen…
She spots the baby shower invitation on the dashboard and schemes a way to be out of town…
She sizes up a woman standing at the bus stop and judges her…
She stews over a comment her brother made behind her back, and crafts a letter telling him off—and sounding righteous in the process.
She reviews the morning’s argument with her husband, and plans the evening installment.
She replays memory tapes going back to the ‘60s, trying to change the endings.
Somebody drives up the road shoulder and budges to the head of the traffic jam, and she hates the driver with a perfect hatred.
She passes Audrey in her garden and waves—but thinks, “If Audrey’s sick, I’m a flying Wallenda.”
An inner voice tells her to turn off the radio and pray, but she decides it’s the voice of legalism.
She is angry at God because here she is a Christian and broke, while her good-for-nothing heathen of a brother is rolling in dough.
She tries to pray but doesn’t get past “Our Father.”
The article concludes, “If you were to ask the lady… what she had been thinking about on the drive from town, she would say, ‘Oh, nothing in particular.’ And she would not be lying. Imagine believing we don’t need a Savior” (WORLD, 6/11/05, Page 35). What kinds of things do you think about? It’s a choice you make. Someone once said that you may not be able to keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.
Verse 8 provides us with eight filters to help us keep out the bad and let in only the good: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.” We are to think about these 8 kinds of things, which mean we are to continuously ponder them in a detailed and logical manner. Notice that these categories are broad and not necessarily religious. We’re told to ponder “whatever” is true and right and pure. This word is repeated six times and with each time, the circle of appreciation grows. One commentator has said that this can include Bach to bluegrass to big bands to the blues. As C.S. Lewis put it, “This world is not our final destination, but it is a merry inn along the way.” God has packed a lot of good into his world and we need to fill our minds with that which is praiseworthy. Be deliberate about what you allow yourself to think about. Just as good food is necessary for our body’s health, good thoughts are necessary for spiritual health.
Let me suggest some practical ways to deliberately let your mind dwell on the positive:
- Fill your mind with the Bible by reading it daily, memorizing it, and meditating upon its truths.
- Commit to regular Sunday worship.
- Regularly expose yourself to things that reflect the goodness of God.
- Make fellowship with believers a priority by joining a small group.
- Listen to Christian radio.
- Watch what you watch on TV.
3. Practice what you know (9).
The real key for us is not more information; it’s application. We must start living out what we know to be true. If you want peace you can’t be passive about it – pray and prepare your mind. We can nod our heads in agreement about the truthfulness of Scripture but until we practice what’s been preached we’re just going through the motions. Some of us find ourselves saying something like this: “I know what the Bible says, but…” Look at verse 9: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice.”
When we were on vacation we spent a couple days at a beach. One day we went for a walk on the sand. As we were walking, our six-year-old Megan called out from behind us, “Mommy, I’m following your footsteps” as she placed her little foot inside the impressions Beth was leaving behind. I turned to Megan and said, “Oh Megan, I hope you follow your mom’s steps the rest of your life!” Friend, are you putting into practice what you’ve learned and received and heard and seen in those who are following the steps of Jesus? Remember the words of Jesus in John 13:17: “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
After we cultivate the attitudes of joy and gentleness and jettison anxiety, and when we pray about everything, prepare our minds and practice what we know, we can count on two assurances.
1. The Peace of God will protect us (7).
Once we present our requests to God, His peace will come flooding into our lives. Go back to verse 7: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I want you to notice that it’s God’s peace and only He can give it to us. Instead of stressing, we can begin singing again. Psalm 94:19: “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.”
This peace “transcends all understanding” which means that it goes way beyond all that we can even ask or imagine; it excels and surpasses everything we could have hoped for. In fact, we can’t even put it into words. Our minds cannot even fathom this kind of supernatural peace. In John 14:27 Jesus said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Isaiah 26:3 echoes this truth: “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” When our minds focus on the right things, God’s perfect peace keeps us steady.
The word “guard” is a military term meaning to protect a camp or castle, as they marched around securing that which was valuable and strategic. When God’s peace floods our lives, it will protect our valuable hearts from wrong feelings and our strategic minds from wrong thoughts. The enemy is unable to get in when God’s peace protects us.
2. The God of Peace will be with us (9).
We do not live the Christian life in our own strength. Jehovah Shalom is with us. Look at verse 9: “And the God of peace will be with you.”
When you came in this morning you were given a rubber band. Please slip it on one of your wrists and whenever you find yourself worrying or stressing out this week, take the band and snap it. If you hear someone else filled with anxiety ask them permission to snap their wrist. When you do, say this outloud:
WORRY ABOUT NOTHING,
PRAY ABOUT EVERYTHING
Do you remember that obnoxious song from years ago called, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy?” I’m not so sure that worry will flee if we just work at being happy but I do like one of the lines from the song: “In every life we have some trouble but when you worry you make it double.” You’ve probably noticed that I left out one of the most important phrases in this passage. It contains only four words but they are packed with meaning. They’re really the key to everything. Look again at verse 5: “The Lord is near.”
This has two meanings. First, the Lord is close by, not far away. Psalm 73:28: “But as for me, it is good to be near God.” Psalm 145:18 declares that the “Lord is near to all who call on Him” and somehow He is even closer to us when we go through tough times as stated in Psalm 34:18: “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Friend, if you know Jesus He is as close as your heart. Second, the Lord is coming back. Because the Lord’s return could happen at anytime, we should not allow anxiety to control us or conflict to define us. James 5:8-9 says, “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!”
As we celebrate communion, let’s remember that the Lord is near. Because Christ is close by, we can be joyful always, gentle to everyone, and we can jettison anxiety. And since He’s coming back soon, let’s pray about everything, prepare our minds and practice what we know to be true.