A Daily Pursuit
Week of September 8, 2019
The Point: Deepen your relationship with God by spending time with Him every day.
Rejoice in the Lord: Philippians 4:4-9.
 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. [ESV]
“Resolve Always to Rejoice in the Lord [4:4]. Paul writes, Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Of course, Paul has already introduced this theme into his letter. In the first chapter, Paul assured his readers, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel [1:4-5]. The theme recurs in chapter 2: Paul is ready to be poured out as a kind of drink offering, a sacrifice on top of all their sacrifices, and if this should transpire, he would be glad and rejoice with them and expect them to be glad and rejoice with him [2:17-18]. The same theme is picked up in chapter 3:1: Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. Doubtless the Philippians could not read many such exhortations from the apostle without remembering that Paul had been a prime example of this virtue when he had first preached the gospel among them. According to Acts 16, he and Silas were arrested and thrown into prison. Beaten, bruised, their feet in stocks, they displayed not a whiff of self-pity. Far from it; they began a midnight chorus of praise. Now Paul finds himself in prison again. And what does he say? Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice [4:4]. In one sense, this injunction is so self-evidently right that it is embarrassing that we should have to be reminded of it. Surely all redeemed men and women will want to rejoice in the Lord. Our sins have been forgiven! We have been declared righteous because another has borne our guilt. We have received the gift of the Spirit, the down payment of the promised inheritance that will be ours when Jesus comes again. We are children of the living God. Our “threescore years and ten” may be fraught with difficulty, but eternity awaits us, secured by the Son of God. We shall see Christ face to face and spend an eternity in the purest worship and in consummated holiness. If we fail to respond with joy and gratitude when we are reminded of these things, it is either because we have not properly grasped the depth of the abyss of our own sinful natures and of the curse from which we have been freed by Jesus or because we have not adequately surveyed the splendor of the heights to which we have been raised. Happy the Christian who sees in every sin a monster that could easily snare him eternally, were it not for the grace of God. The kingdom of God may be entered through suffering [Acts 14:22], but it is characterized by joy. But note some details in the text. First, we are exhorted to rejoice in the Lord. The controlling issue is not the style of rejoicing, but the ground. We are not necessarily rejoicing in the Lord when we are boisterous and loud and uninhibited in a large conference hall where the singing is swinging. Such praise may in some instances be entirely appropriate; equally, joy in the Lord may be happily expressed in solemn silence, in tears of gratitude, in sheer delight in times of prayer. But Paul’s focus is not on the style; it is on the ground of the rejoicing. The ultimate ground of our rejoicing can never be our circumstances, even though we as Christians recognize that our circumstances are providentially arranged. If our joy derives primarily from our circumstances, then when our circumstances change, we will be miserable. Our delight must be in the Lord Himself. That is what enables us to live with joy above our circumstances. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why the Lord sometimes allows miserable circumstances to lash us – that we may learn this lesson. Whatever the mysteries of evil and sorrow, they do have the salutary effect of helping believers to shift the ground of their joy from created things to the Creator, from the temporary to the eternal, from consumption to God. Second, the text implicitly answers two questions: (1) When and (2) for how long are we to rejoice in the Lord? To both questions, the text answers with one word: always. And this is a command, not simply good advice. Obedience to this command is possible because the ground of this rejoicing is changeless. Our circumstances may rightly call from us grief, tears, and sorrow. Unless the Lord comes back first, each of us will face death – our own, and if we live long enough, the death of loved ones and friends. And we will weep. But even in our tears, we may rejoice, we will rejoice, we must rejoice, for we rejoice in the Lord. He does not change. And that is why we shall rejoice in the Lord always. God well knows that a believer who conscientiously obeys this command cannot be a backbiter or a gossip. Such a believer cannot be spiritually proud or filled with conceit, cannot be stingy or prayerless, cannot be a chronic complainer or perpetually bitter. The cure for a crushed and bitter spirit is to see Christ Jesus the Lord and then to rejoice in Him. Lurking and nourished sins are always a sign that our vision of Jesus is dim and that our joy in Him has evaporated with the morning dew. By contrast, the believer who practices rejoicing in the Lord will increasingly discover balm in the midst of heartache, rest in the midst of exhausting tension, love in the midst of loneliness, and the presence of God in control of excruciating circumstances. Such a believer never gives up the Christian walk. Resolve always to rejoice in the Lord.
Resolve to Be Known for Gentleness [4:5]. That is what Paul commands: Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. The word rendered reasonableness is not easy to translate. If refers to the exact opposite of a spirit of contention and self-seeking, which is why it is sometimes translated “gentleness” (NIV). But this gentleness must not be confused with being a wimp, with the kind of person whose personality is akin to a wet dishcloth. What is in view is a certain kind of willed, self-effacing kindness. What do most of us want to be known for? Do you want to be known for your extraordinary good looks? Do you want to be known for your quick wit, for your sense of humor, for your sagacity? Do you want to be known for your wealth, for your family connections? Of perhaps you are more pious and want to be known for your prayer life or for your excellent skills as a leader of inductive Bible studies. Many a preacher wants to be known for his preaching. How appalling. The sad fact is that even our highest and best motives are so easily corroded by self-interest that we begin to overlook this painful reality. Paul cuts to the heart of the issue: be known for gentleness. It is so very easy to mistake the genuine movement of the Spirit for assorted counterfeits. Or perhaps more difficult yet is the movement where there is something genuinely of God and not a little of the flesh. One of the tests that can be applied to determine whether a movement is of God – though certainly it is not the only one – is to observe to what degree those affected are making it their aim to be known for gentleness. In this, they are becoming like their Master. Is that not one of the lessons made clear in chapter 2 of this epistle? Paul calls us to be like-minded with Jesus, and then he outlines how this Jesus – though He enjoyed equality with God – did not view such equality as something to be exploited, but made Himself nothing, became a human being, and died the ignominious and shameful death of crucifixion. He became known for selflessness. May God grant that all who read these pages will pray earnestly for this virtue and resolve steadily to pursue it. For such believers will never be moved; they will never give up the Christian walk. Paul gives us a specific reason to obey the command: Let your reasonableness be known to everyone when he adds, The Lord is near. Paul could mean that the Lord is near temporally; that is, that He is coming soon. In that case, the impending return of the Lord Jesus provides the incentive to be gentle or reasonable. But this statement could also mean that the Lord is near spatially or perhaps better personally. He is not far off; He is very near. How then can we give ourselves to self-promotion? If Jesus walked into the room where you and your friends were seated, how would you respond? Would you immediately rush up to Him and strut your excellence? Would self-promotion play any part in your thinking at that point? Not a chance! But that is the point: the Lord Jesus has promised to be present, by His Spirit, where even two or three of His disciples gather in His name. Does it change the fundamental reality simply because we cannot see Him at the moment?
Resolve Not to Be Anxious about Anything, but Learn Instead to Pray [4:6-7]. This is perhaps the most striking resolution so far, yet it is nothing but a paraphrase of Paul’s own words: do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God [4:6]. In this verse Scripture tells us how to overcome our anxieties. Do not be anxious about anything is not a naked prohibition; the alternative is immediately provided: but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Those of us who have been born into the family of God know about these things. But knowing about them and finding them true in our experience are two different things. When was the last time you prayed explicitly and at length over the things that worry you, trouble you, plague you? Did you take them out and recount them to God, one by one, laying your burdens on Him? Time, time alone and quiet before God, that is what we need. Our lives are so rushed that we begrudge a three-minute “quiet time,” and then we wonder where God is. Christians who come before the Father in regular prayer discover that Peter is right: casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you [1 Peter 5:7]. They discover that Paul is right: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose [Rom. 8:28]. We are refreshed in the assurance of God’s sovereign and wise goodness. According to Philippians 4, the way to be anxious about nothing is to be prayerful about everything. None of this means that our paths will be smooth and edged with the sweetest smelling roses. There is no hint that we shall live above the pressures of other mortals by escaping them. Far from it. It is precisely in the context of the pressures we all must endure that we find our rest in God. This passage does not deny the existence of anxieties, it tells us what to do with them. It does not tell us that if we have the right personality, we can live above tension; it tells us where we find strength and grace to help in times of need. In fact, we are to go on the offensive. Not only are we to present our prayers and petitions to God, we are to do so with thanksgiving. This, surely, is what is elsewhere called a sacrifice of praise [Heb. 13:15]. Anyone can offer praise when things are going well. To praise when by common human reckoning everything is the pits – this is what demands the sacrifice of praise. In Philippians 4, Paul insists that this must be our constant policy: along with our petitions and cares, we offer our heavenly Father thanksgiving. For in fact, even in the most extreme sorrow and distress, there is much for which to give thanks to God – above all, for the privilege of being reconciled to Him by the death of His dear Son and for all the blessings that come our way, in this life and the next, because of this great salvation. Resolve not to be anxious about anything, but learn instead to pray. Nothing will prove so effective in strengthening your spiritual stamina, in giving you grace never to give up the Christian walk.
Resolve to Think Holy Thoughts [4:8-9]. That, surely, is what Paul means in verse 8. Clearly, David recognized in Psalm 139:23-24 that God knew his thoughts, but that any real reform in his life must begin with his thoughts. That is why the Lord Jesus taught, in the Sermon on the Mount, that murder can be traced to hate, and adultery to lust [Matt. 5:21-22,27-30]. That is also why, from God’s perspective, the real measure of individuals lies in what they think – not in what they own or in how well they deploy their gifts or even in what they do, but in what they think. If you think holy thoughts, you will be holy; if you think garbage, you will be garbage. One of the sovereign remedies against sin is to spend much time, thoughtful time, meditative time, in the Scriptures, for it is impossible to get rid of the trash in our minds without replacing it with an entirely different way of thinking. There is no enduring sanctification apart from the truth of the gospel taking hold of our minds. The way we avoid being conformed to this world, the way we are transformed into conformity with Christ, is by the renewing of our minds [Rom. 12:2]. In the passage before us, Paul puts things in the most concrete way. Think about true things, Paul insists, not about the false. Think about noble things, not the base. Think about whatever is right; do not dwell on the wrong. Think about whatever is pure, not the sleazy. Think about the lovely, not the disgusting. Think about the admirable, not the despicable. Whatever is excellent, think about it. Resolve to think holy thoughts. Moreover, this verse [4:8] is tightly tied to the next. After telling the Philippian believers to think holy thoughts, Paul goes on to say, What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. In other words, Paul is returning to a theme that was very strong in the previous chapter: we are to emulate worthy Christian leaders. In this context, that theme is now applied to the discipline of the mind. We are to emulate Christian leaders who have clearly disciplined their minds. Resolve to think holy thoughts. This is foundational to the commitment never to give up the Christian walk.” [Carson, pp. 103-117].
Questions for Discussion:
- This passage contains a series of commands and promises. List all the commands. What areas of your life do the commands cover? Note that the first command is to Rejoice … always. What does this command tell you concerning the nature of biblical joy? Do you wait until you feel joy or do you commit yourself to be joyful in the Lord? Why is the ground of our rejoicing more important than the style? The two promises concern the peace of God in verses 7 and 9. What is the relationship between the commands and the promises? What must we do in order to receive and enjoy the promise of God’s peace?
- What does Paul teach us concerning prayer in these verses? What types of prayers does Paul list? How does prayer cure anxiety? Why must our prayers be done with thanksgiving? When we include thanksgiving with our prayers, what are we saying to God?
- In verse 8 Paul describes eight virtues by using six adjectives and two nouns. Then he commands us to think about these things. What are these eight virtues? What do you spend time thinking about? What we put into our minds determines what comes out in our words and actions. Commit yourself to developing the Christian discipline to think about these eight virtues.
- In verse 9 Paul moves from thinking to doing. He commands us to practice these things. As you spend time thinking about the eight virtues, ask God to enable you to then put your thoughts into practice; to use these virtues in order to change your behavior. Note that Paul teaches us that correct thinking comes before correct behavior. If we desire to live in a way that glorifies our Lord, then we must first think in a way that glorifies Him. For the next eight days, focus on one of these virtues. Seek to fill your mind with thoughts of that virtue. Ask God for the strength and for the opportunities to put that virtue into practice during that day.
An Exposition of Philippians, D. A. Carson, Baker.
The Letter to the Philippians, G. Walter Hansen, Eerdmans.
The Message of Philippians, J. A. Motyer, Inter Varsity.
The Epistle to the Philippians, Peter O’Brien, Eerdmans.