Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry 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.Philippians 4:4-7
“Rejoice in the Lord always,” Paul tells us. And then, in case we missed it, “Again I will say, Rejoice.”
Rejoice in the Lord always. But how? How do we do that? I have been wrestling with these words this week, as we continue to live in these challenging times. How do we rejoice in the Lord always?
Because it’s been a tough year, hasn’t it? We thought that 2020 was tough, and it certainly was, but at least it didn’t start out in the midst of a pandemic! This year started out tough, and has just kept on going, with challenge after challenge. We were already tired of it all before January 1st, weren’t we? We were all looking forward to the end of 2020, and to a better year. But 2021 hasn’t felt much better, in lots of ways.
I don’t know if this is comforting or not, but even someone like Bill Gates has acknowledged what a tough year this has been. In his year-end review, published this past week, Gates wrote that because of the pandemic, this year has been the most unusual and difficult year of his life. “2020 had a brief period of relative normalcy before COVID-19 upended everything,” Gates wrote. “In 2021, the pandemic has dominated our lives since day one.” And that is very true. And that has made this year even more difficult than 2020.
So, as we continue to live through all of this, how can we do as Paul commands, and rejoice in the Lord always? Why should we do this? I want to wrestle with that question today, and try to answer it by looking for clues throughout his Letter to the Philippians.
Paul’s Letter to the Philippians has been called his letter of joy, because you can see joy bubble up throughout. But let’s remember that Paul wrote this letter from a prison cell, awaiting probable execution. It would have been easy for him to write a darker letter, more discouraged, with less joy. That is not what Paul did. He found a way to rejoice in the Lord, even there. And if he could do it there, we can certainly do it here.
We can rejoice in the Lord, with Paul, by doing as he suggests, in today’s passage and throughout this letter. From start to finish, you can read this Letter to the Philippians as a how-to manual on rejoicing in the Lord. And so, this morning I want to share with you today what I have learned from Paul’s letter, on how to rejoice in the Lord always.
The first thing that we learn in this letter on how to rejoice is that it is very connected to being thankful. In order to rejoice in the Lord always, it is essential to develop an attitude of gratitude. Over and over again in this letter, Paul demonstrates this attitude. The very opening of this letter begins with a word of thanksgiving: “I thank my God every time I remember you” (Philippians 1:3), he writes from his prison cell.
And near the end of the letter, in today’s passage, Paul again reminds us to let our lives be filled with thanksgiving. When we make our requests known to God in prayer, Paul reminds us to do so with thanksgiving. “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).
Our lives as Christians should be filled with thanksgiving. Every day should be a day filled with gratitude. Because we have much to be thankful for. Even in the midst of our challenges, we can be thankful. After all, God is with us, even in the midst of our challenges. “The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5). So how can we not be grateful?
And when we do that, when we focus on being thankful, we will always find something to rejoice about. From a prison cell, Paul focused on his blessings – his faith, his friends, and the nearness of his Lord. It filled him with thanksgiving, and caused him to rejoice in the Lord.
Paul knew that being thankful and being joyful are really two sides of the same coin. If we focus on our blessings, being thankful for what we have, it is almost impossible not to be joyful. On the other hand, if we focus on what we don’t have, and are not grateful for these blessings, it is almost impossible to rejoice in the Lord. Be thankful for our blessings and we will rejoice in the Lord always.
Focusing on Jesus
And along with focusing on being thankful, Paul had another focus. Simply put, it was Jesus: the “surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus” his Lord (Philippians 3:8). Paul regarded everything but Christ as nothing of value. It was all loss compared to knowing Jesus. Even life itself had value only because of Jesus.
“To me,” Paul wrote, “living is Christ, and dying is gain” (Philippians 1:21). He was hard-pressed to even choose between the two, living or dying, he wrote.
“I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you” (Philippians 1:23-24).
Imagine being so focused on Jesus that you don’t care whether you live or die; you just want to find ways to serve him with the time you have been given. With that attitude, rejoicing in the Lord is easy to do.
There is a wonderful book on the Christian faith by G.K. Chesterton, called “Orthodoxy,” and in the conclusion of that book, Chesterton states that “joy is the gigantic secret of the Christian.” And I love his explanation for why.
He explains this by pointing out that non-Christians are forced to rejoice in the little things, but remain sad about the big things. Their lives are lived under the shadow of death, and so their joy is fleeting.
The Christian, on the other hand, lives in exactly the opposite way. We might be sad about the little things, but we can always rejoice in the big things, because we know how this story ends: It ends with life. Eternal life. We no longer live under the shadow of death. So even when we find ourselves sad about the little things, as we often do, we have a joy that is far deeper and more permanent. Our sadness is fleeting; but our joy is eternal. For to us, living is Christ. To us, everything but Christ is nothing of value.
Everything else is loss compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus. And this gives us a peace that surpasses all understanding. If the most important thing in your life is Jesus, then you can rejoice no matter what is happening in your life, because nothing that happens in your life can take that away from you.
Seeing God at Work in All Things
Another way that Paul was able to rejoice in the Lord always, was by learning to see the Lord’s hand in all things. Even in his imprisonment. That’s not to say that he believed all things were God’s will. What he believed was that God could bring good out of all things. Writing of his imprisonment, Paul said:
“I want you to know that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ” (Philippians 1:12-14).
You see? Paul was able to see God working in his life even through his imprisonment. He could have focused on all the things that he was not able to do for God because of his imprisonment. But, instead, Paul focused on what God was doing through this latest challenge. The whole imperial guard and everyone else was learning the good news of Jesus Christ for one reason: Paul’s imprisonment. And that helped Paul to rejoice in the Lord, even in his prison cell.
When we believe that God can bring good out of every challenge we face, then every challenge we face gives us one more reason to rejoice in the Lord. Even a pandemic can give us new opportunities to share our faith, and bear witness to our hope. And so, we can rejoice in the Lord.
Turn Your Worries into Prayers
There is one final way to rejoice in the Lord always, and that has to do with our worrying. Paul tells us in today’s reading not to worry about anything. Now, I have to tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone that never worried about anything. And that certainly includes me! In fact, I don’t know what’s more difficult for me: rejoicing in the Lord always, or not worrying about anything. Both of these can be pretty challenging! So, how are we not to worry about anything?
Well, listen again to exactly what Paul says in today’s reading:
“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).
If I had to paraphrase this, and put it very simply, I would say that what Paul is really getting at is that we are to turn our worries into prayers. You may have heard me say this before, but I am saying it again because I need to hear it again. Turn all our worries into prayers. Don’t not worry. But when you worry, pray.
When we catch ourselves worrying about something, in other words, pray about it. Worries, in this way, can actually become reminders to pray – Our worries can be signals that we are taking too much of the burden from what is rightfully God’s. God’s in charge, right? So, if we are worrying about something, we need to talk to God about it. Worrying actually reminds us to do this.
When we view our worrying in this way, worrying actually becomes a positive tool in our spiritual toolbox. Our worries teach us what we should be praying about. And when we turn our worries into prayers, Paul assures us that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
And what that means to me is that when we turn our worries into prayers, we receive God’s peace, which guards our hearts and minds against being taken over by our worries. And that, surely, is reason to rejoice in the Lord!
“Rejoice in the Lord always.” I wanted to preach on these words of Paul’s today, not because I find it easy to rejoice in the Lord always, but actually, because I find it challenging. And I suspect that I am not alone in this. Especially this year.
From a prison cell, Paul rejoices in the Lord. And he teaches us to rejoice in the Lord, too. How? Well, to summarize:
First, by having an attitude of gratitude – by being thankful for faith, friends, and the presence of our Lord. Second, by placing Jesus first in our life. When living to us is Christ, and dying is gain, we are joyful about the big things, even when we are sad about the little things. Third, by believing that God can bring good out of every challenge we face, no matter how bad it may seem at the time. And fourth, by turning our worries into prayers.
When we do these things, we can’t help but rejoice in the Lord. Today and always. And so, as you and I do these things, may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
This is my second sermon on this passage, which I believe is important enough to warrant a second sermon. My first can be found here: Rejoice in the Lord.