“Rejoice in the Lord Always”
 Philippians 4:4-23

Today we are wrapping up Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. Today’s Scripture begins on the note of joy, which if I were asked to sum up this letter with one word, “Joy” would be an excellent option. Paul began the final section of this letter in chapter 3 with the theme of joy, with a focus on the people and church. In chapter 4, joy is followed by an outward focus, where Paul encourages the people to take it to the world. Paul instructs them to let their gentle forbearance be known by all people. He then reminds them that the Lord is near and with that reminder they are called to let go of anxiety, and replace it with prayer and thanksgiving. He wraps it up with the promise of God’s peace which will guard their hearts and minds. 

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say it, Rejoice.”
For Paul, and for all believers, joy should be a distinctive feature. Not the sappy kind of joy that comes and goes depending on the circumstances, but joy exhibited by an abiding deeply spiritual quality of life that demonstrates an assurance of one’s relationship with the Lord. Paul puts it out there, not as a Christian option, but as an imperative. The joy Paul referred to was connected, “with the Lord.” He reminded the Philippians that the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives and in their midst was meant to provide joy, regardless of the struggles around them. 

Where did we miss this imperative? 

I grew up in the church and to be honest I don’t recall seeing this type of joy in action. I do recall people reminding me of the things I should be doing and reprimanding me when I did the things I shouldn’t. 
The do’s and don’ts won out over the joy. I do remember the first time I met someone who demonstrated such joy on a daily basis. I also remember praying that I could be like them. They were two sisters, Hazel and Patricia St. John. Patricia was an English writer who was known as one of the most prolific British Protestant evangelical writers of fiction in the latter part of the 20th century. She and her sister Hazel, worked for much of their lives as missionaries in Lebanon and Morocco. They worked alongside Faith, the sister of the director of Chop Point Camp. For two summers in a row, they came to the camp for a week during counselor training. They each had a countenance that reflected peace and joy, as they told us horrific stories of persecution while serving as missionaries. When situations would arise that were difficult I recall their faces never showed fear but they would respond with something like, “God has a plan, it is for good, we can wait for it.” 
They always had a smile and seemed to have all the time in the world to listen to others. 

Patricia and Hazel also exhibited the second imperative in this chapter, “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” 

Paul writes this, remember, to a group of people who were being persecuted by the government because they refused to bow down to Caesar, as lord. The gentle forbearance Paul implores of them, was to not only be towards each other but also towards those who were currently making their lives miserable. This fits right in with Paul’s connection to living like Christ. When Jesus had insults hurled at Him, He did not retaliate. Isaiah 53,

He was oppressed and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.

Next, instead of another imperative, Paul throws in an indicative, a statement, The Lord is near. This could be another instance of intertextuality. Paul may recall Psalm 145:18,

The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.

Paul reminds them although they may be suffering at the hands of those who demand they claim Caesar is lord, the truth is, the “real” Lord is near. And because this is true, they are to live without anxiety, in all the details and circumstances of life. When anxiety appears, Paul’s remedy, which by the way Paul says fits “in every situation,”  is to commence prayer. Petition God for freedom from anxiety, and for answers to the struggles, and Paul calls us to do this, “with thanksgiving.”
Let’s be honest here. 

Are you someone who wrestles with anxiety? 


Are you someone who chooses not to be anxious but presents your requests to God, in prayer, let’s go and let’s God, with thanksgiving. 

The thanksgiving Paul is stating does not mean saying “thank you” for what you are about to receive. Rather, it is the posture in which you present your requests. 

Choosing not to take on anxiety, but taking on a posture of thanksgiving brings about God’s peace. The kind of peace you don’t have to figure out but you know it when you feel it. It’s that kind of peace that exists out of trust in God. 
This peace guards the heart and mind and all of this is done, “in Christ Jesus.”  For Paul, and for us, everything is “in Christ Jesus.” Everything that accounts for life, whether in the present or the future has to be engulfed, “in Christ Jesus.” 

In place of anxiety, Paul then gives a list of the best attributes that exist in their Greco-Roman heritage and he calls on them to think on these things. The Greek verb Paul uses in this sentence, does not mean, think, as in put their minds to it, but rather, to reckon, or take into account, the good they have long known, that is conformable to Christ. When we look out into the world, Paul encourages us not to throw out the baby with the bath water, but to reckon with those things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. 
Look at these things through the light of the cross and recognize them and live them out as well, put them into practice. 

This is where Paul completes his exhortations. All that Paul has written was done for this purpose. That those who would read his letter would put all that he was teaching them, “into practice.” Then he reminds them once again, they would not be doing so, alone. The God of peace would be with them. 

Paul goes on in his letter to thank the church of Philippi for their continued financial support. Paul points out that his joy lies not in the gifts they have given him, as he has learned to live with or without things. He has managed to be content, regardless of his circumstances, through Jesus who gives him the strength. 
Everything returns to Christ for Paul, his life is the definition of Christ-centeredness.  Paul sees the gifts they have given him as a renewal of their friendship and more importantly their partnership in the gospel. Their gift, which was sent to administer to Paul’s physical health, serves Paul more significantly as evidence of their “spiritual” health. It also functioned as a sacrificial offering to God. An image Paul again takes from the Old Testament of the “aroma” of the sacrificial fire wafting heavenward to God. The effect of this sacrifice will be God meeting their needs according to the riches of His glory. This doesn’t mean the Philippians will be given more money than they gave, but that God will supply them with their needs of: steadfastness, joy, encouragement, their need to advance in their faith with one mindset, along with the grace and humility to do so. 

Paul closes this letter the same way in which he began. It began, “in Christ Jesus,” and now concludes, “in Christ Jesus.” For Paul, one would expect nothing less. For Paul to live was Christ, and for Paul to die was Christ. Everything was “in Christ Jesus.” 

Paul follows with a doxology,
To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. 
And finally with , Amen, or “so be it.” 
After reading through the book of Philippians, I am reminded how true the verse, written by Paul, in Hebrews 4:12, 
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
This letter could have been written to us today. As we try to live a Christian life in a post-modern world, which is saturated by media, where the “truth” has become relevant, and morality is up for grabs, we need to read and re-read this letter. Paul tells us to approach the marketplace, the arts, the media, the university by looking for what is “true, uplifting and admirable.” He tells us to do so through the lenses of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This means dissecting the visible expressions we receive in order to reveal the underlying purposes they represent. These purposes appear as relativism, materialism, hedonism, nationalism and individualism. Paul reminds us we have been given a mind and we should be using it, but to remember, our mind has been sanctified, Christ centered, where it is more important to practice the gospel. To live is Christ, to die is to gain Christ, the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as one’s Lord, should be our goal, all else is dog dung. 
Amen. So be it.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.