Sometimes I wonder if most Christians really know how to rejoice in the Lord. Really rejoice in all circumstances—good and bad.
A nine-year-old who had leukemia was given six months to live. When the doctor broke the news to her parents outside her hospital room, the youngster overheard the doctor's words. But it did not become obvious until later that she knew about her condition. To everyone's surprise, her faith in Christ gave her an attitude of victory. She talked freely about her death with anticipation in her voice. As she grew weaker, it seemed that her joy became more radiant. One day before she sank into a final coma, she said to her family, "I am going to be the first to see Jesus! What would you like me to tell Him for you?" 1
With the innocence of a youngster this little girl knew what it meant to rejoice in the Lord.
In 1636 during the Thirty Years War–one of the worst wars in the history of mankind in terms of the sheer number of deaths, epidemics, the economic results–there was a godly pastor whose name was Martin Rinkert. In a single year, this pastor buried 5,000 people in his parish–about fifteen a day. He lived with the worst that life could do.
But if you look in your hymnal, you'll find that in the middle of that time, he wrote a table grace for his children, our thanksgiving hymn:
Now thank we all our God
With hearts and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done,
In whom his world rejoices.
(Joel Gregory, "The Unlikely Thanker," Preaching Today, Tape No. 110.Bible Illustrator)
The pastor who penned those words knew what it meant to rejoice in the Lord.
As we come to the text of God’s Word this morning in Philippians 3:1 we’re going to focus on this kind of rejoicing in the Lord. Let’s look at the text.
Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe.
Paul begins this verse with finally. Paul says finally at the start of chapter 3 and there is still chapter 4 that remains in Philippians. So is Paul being a typical preacher here? Is he saying finally even though he’s anything but finished? I intentionally try avoid using the word finally when I’m preaching.
But finally here,is better rendered “furthermore,” “so then,” or “now then.” It is a word of transition, not conclusion, since half of Philippians follows it. 2
In our next study we’ll see how Paul issues some serious warnings to the believers at Philippi. But before these warnings he says, rejoice in the Lord and that is what I want to focus on this morning. I’d like to make four observations about rejoicing from this text.
The first is that rejoicing is commanded.
Rejoicing is Commanded
The word rejoice is given in the imperative sense in the Greek. That means it expresses a command. It is something that is to be done. It’s not a suggestion. It’s not optional. Rejoicing in the Lord is commanded.
For the obedient follower of Christ rejoicing in the Lord will flow from their life. But part of living the life of obedience to God and His Word is rejoicing. If we are rejoicing in the Lord we are living in obedience to God’s Word. If we are not rejoicing in the Lord we are disobeying the Word of God.
We saw in our previous studies in the book of Philippians that we’re not to complain and argue. Look back at Paul’s instruction in Philippians 2:14.
Do all things without complaining and disputing,
We are not to complain but we are to rejoice in the Lord.
Let me give you an example from the Old Testament. In Exodus 16 we’re given the account of the Israelites as they are traveling in the wilderness. They are complaining about hunger and remembering how much food was available to them back in Egypt. Listen to Exodus 16:2.
Exodus 16:2 Then the whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.
Listen to how Moses responds to the complaining of the Israelites in verse 8.
Exodus 16:8 Also Moses said, "This shall be seen when the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening, and in the morning bread to the full; for the LORD hears your complaints which you make against Him. And what are we? Your complaints are not against us but against the LORD."
He says, “it’s not us you’re complaining against. You are complaining against the Lord.” They were not rejoicing but they were complaining.
When we complain, whom are we ultimately complaining against? If the Lord is sovereign and in control—and He most certainly is sovereign and in control—aren’t we actually complaining against God?
Complaining usually stems from a lack of contentment and our selfishness. When things don’t go our way where is our focus going to be?
When the guy we voted for in an election doesn’t get elected are we going to complain or are we going to rejoice in the Lord knowing that He is ultimately the one in control? When our health fails are we going to complain or rejoice in the Lord? When money is tight are we going to complain or rejoice in the Lord? When our spouse isn’t meeting our expectations are we going to complain or rejoice in the Lord?
We’ve been told to do all things without complaining. We’ve been told to rejoice in the Lord. Rejoicing is commanded. It’s not an option for the believer. If you choose to complain you are disobeying God.
I want to help you with this so think about this with me for a minute. A Biblical principle of Christian living is putting off the things of the old nature and putting on the things of the new nature—the things of Christ. Look at Ephesians 4:22-24 with me for a moment.
Ephesians 4:22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
We could classify Philippians 2:14 as the putting off—put off complaining—get rid of it—it’s no good—it will destroy you and discourage those around you.
If Philippians 2:14 is the put off, then Philippian 3:1 is the put on. Put on rejoicing in the Lord—choose to rejoice in all things. And if you can’t rejoice in difficult circumstances then rejoice that God is ultimately in control and He knows what’s best for us.
For some of us we’ve complained for so long that we’ll have to actively and consciously chose to put on rejoicing. And if you struggle with complaining you will find it very difficult to stop complaining unless you intentionally and thoughtfully bring into your life rejoicing in the Lord.
And let’s be careful we don’t just write off what we’re talking about here. I think our inclination is to deny that we really are complainers. “I don’t complain I just tell it like it is.”
If you really want to know whether you have a problem with complaining I’d suggest you ask your spouse to give you their opinion about whether you are a complainer or not—and let’s be kind to one another—if your spouse asks for your insight let’s not hammer them about their complaining but give an honest, kind answer. Young people ask your parents—do I complain? If you don’t have a spouse ask a close friend—do you think I complain? Those closest to you will know if you are one to complain or not. We hide it from others pretty well, but those close to us know. Then when you get your answer don’t be mean in return—“we’ll you’re a complainer too.” Don’t tell them unless they ask.
Paul has been a great example for us. We’ve seen in our previous studies Paul was writing this letter to the Philippians while he was a prisoner. But his writing isn’t filled with a list of gripes and complaints. His joy has been clear throughout our studies. He knew what it was to rejoice in the Lord. Rejoicing in the Lord is commanded.
Notice also that rejoicing is for Christians.
Rejoicing is for Christians
If we are going to rejoice in the Lord, we must have a relationship with Him. I cannot rejoice in the Lord if I’m not following Him. I can think all the happy positive thoughts I want but if I haven’t trusted Jesus Christ as my Savior, there is no basis for rejoicing in the Lord.
Remember Paul’s words in Philippians 1:18? Look at it with me,
Philippians 1:18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.
Paul was in prison and there were those that were preaching Christ with wrong motives—they were trying to add to Paul’s affliction. How did Paul respond? Was he bitter? Was he complaining? No, he was rejoicing! He was rejoicing in the fact that even though they had wrong motives, Christ was being preached. Paul’s relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ was the basis of his rejoicing.
Rejoicing in the Lord is not dependent on our circumstances or our surroundings. It is dependent on our relationship with Jesus Christ. We can be facing the greatest difficulties and challenges in our lives but if we have trusted Christ, regardless of how bad things are for us we can rejoice in the Lord! Thank goodness that rejoicing in the Lord doesn’t depend on ideal circumstances. But it does depend on our relationship with Christ. How encouraging to know that we can rejoice in the Lord in spite of situations that are far from perfect.
Rejoicing is commanded. Rejoicing is for Christians and… rejoicing is crucial.
Rejoicing is Crucial
Notice the phrase in Philippians 3:1 that Paul uses,
For me to write the same things to you is not tedious…
He’s already called the Philippian believers to rejoice in this letter in Philippians 2:18. Paul says,
For the same reason you also be glad and rejoice with me.
The word rejoice appears several times throughout the book of Philippians. It’s a repeated theme because it’s crucial. It’s important. The theme of joy and rejoicing is repeated often throughout Scripture.
Nehemiah 8:10 Then he said to them, "Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our LORD. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."
Psalm 33:1 Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful.
1 Thessalonians 5:16 Rejoice always,
Joy and rejoicing is crucial. It’s important. Paul says for me to write the same things is not tedious. The word tedious in the Greek means sluggish, slothful or backward. Paul isn’t being lazy by repeating the call to rejoice. He repeats the theme because it’s important.
Before a child learns to read, he is drilled on the alphabet. Repetition is important in helping the child learn each letter and to be able to recognize them and know the sound they make.
In mathematics, children are drilled on addition facts and multiplication. Repetition is vital in building the foundation a child needs to read or solve math problems.
Repeating scripture verses you are trying to commit to memory is necessary for future recall.
And repeating the theme of rejoicing is important for the believer. Rejoicing is foundational to success in the Christian life. That’s why we continue to gather around God’s Word every Sunday. Many of us have heard God’s Word taught for years but still gather to hear God’s Word taught and preached because we realize that it’s a good thing to be reminded—we need to be reminded.
Rejoicing is commanded. It is for the Christian. It’s crucial. And it’s critical for our safety.
Rejoicing is Critical for Our Safety
The last phrase in verse one is, for you it is safe, or as the NASB puts it, it is a safeguard for you. I believe that rejoicing in the Lord protects us. When we are rejoicing in the Lord, we are going to be content. If we are complaining and not satisfied instead of rejoicing, we’re going to be vulnerable to sin. Consider for example Proverbs 5:18.
Proverbs 5:18 Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice in the wife of your youth. (NASB)
If we were to read the whole fifth chapter of Proverbs, we would see the immoral woman described. The destructiveness of being led astray by this type of woman is described for us in Proverbs. In contrast to being led astray is the admonition to rejoice in the wife of your youth. A man who is rejoicing in his wife isn’t going to pursue other women. A man who isn’t rejoicing in his wife but is complaining about her and dissatisfied with her is making himself vulnerable to temptation. And we know the destruction that can follow.
Rejoicing in the Lord is a safeguard for us. It keeps our focus on the goodness of God, where it should be and off of ourselves. When we fail to rejoice in the Lord, it’s easy for us to be selfish and chase the things that please us instead of choosing those things that please the Lord.
Is rejoicing in the Lord something that characterizes your life today? One sign that you belong to the Lord is your rejoicing in Him.
Maybe you haven’t been rejoicing in the Lord lately. If you are a believer, rejoicing in the Lord isn’t optional. It’s necessary for your walk with the Lord. It’s for your protection.
Oswald Chambers said…
The Bible nowhere speaks about a "happy" Christian; it talks plentifully of joy. Happiness depends on things that happen, and may sometimes be an insult: joyfulness is never touched by external conditions, and a joyful heart is never an insult.
Are you rejoicing in the Lord this morning? Maybe you aren’t because you have never trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior. Will you trust Him today? Maybe you’re not rejoicing in the Lord because you haven’t been obedient in this area. Confess that to the Lord and begin to rejoice in the Lord today.
Kevin A. Pierpont
Higgins Lake Baptist Church
1 James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) pp. 149-150. (BI)
2 MacArthur, J. F. (.). The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Philippians (electronic ed.) (Php 3:4).
3 Oswald Chambers in The Shadow of an Agony. Christianity Today, Vol. 37, no. 13, (BI)