Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Philippians 4: 4 – 13. Focus on why we should rejoice in all circumstances and why it is good for us. Also check out Jody Sinkway and the choir following the sermon.
The verse in Paul’s letter to the Philippians that I want to focus on is the fourth verse in the fourth chapter: “Rejoice in the Lord always and I will say it again, rejoice!”
Reality T.V. You’ve probably seen the plethora of reality shows that are on right now. – Survivor, Bachelorette, The Housewives of New Jersey and The Biggest Loser. The ratings are high and millions tune in to see who will be voted off next. The new spiritual authorities are the producers of these shows and we are their followers.
What bothers me about many of these shows is that they bring out the worst in human nature: They bring out our lust for pleasure and power and the overt worship of the Almighty dollar. But that’s life isn’t it? In real life there are broken relationships and divorces. In real lives there are sons and fathers and daughters and mothers who dump on each other all the time. There’s real pain as we feel ourselves to be castoff, thrown out and not wanted.
In the context of our text Paul was being voted out. Paul was in a Philippian jail awaiting extradition and certain death in Rome. Paul, who had been preaching and teaching the gospel, Paul, who once persecuted the church and had killed Christians, was now in a desperate situation and about to be voted off the show.
But Paul writes marvelous things to the church in Philippi. He says, Even if you have been voted off, “rejoice in the Lord always.” Even if you’ve been laid off, “rejoice in the Lord always.” Even if cancer has found its way into your body, “rejoice in the Lord always.” Even if you are misunderstood, even if you are gossiped about and talked about and rebuked, “rejoice in the Lord.”
Paul says, “I have looked at the worst that life can bring and I have concluded there’s only one thing you can do: rejoice in the Lord always.”
I want to suggest four rules for all of us who are trying to do more than survive and want that abundance of life that Christ offers.
Number 1. Paul says that in every instance – with no exceptions – we are to rejoice in the Lord always. Not sometimes, but always. Always is a spiritual discipline, which means we are to rejoice whether or not we feel like it.
We’re not always going to feel like praying; but pray anyhow. We’re not always going to feel like coming to church, but come anyhow. We’re not always going to feel like giving, but give anyway. We’re not always going to feel like rejoicing. But Paul says, “Rejoice whether or not you feel like it,” because feelings come and go all the time.
Feelings are based on so many different factors; but the Bible doesn’t command us to feel like rejoicing. Rejoicing is a decision. Rejoicing is an act of the will. None of us have any difficulty rejoicing when we’re not the one voted off the show, but what happens when our health fails, or we get laid off, or the kids aren’t acting right? It’s an act of faith to rejoice when we don’t feel like it. It’s a declaration that our trust isn’t in our feelings but in God.
Rule 2. Why should we rejoice? What’s the benefit? I believe that rejoicing is a spiritual discipline that lowers the intensity of issues and situations in our lives. The context that Paul is trying to deal with is the disunity in the Philippians’ church. It seems like there’s some personality clashes going on in the church. Paul says, I don’t know who’s right or who’s wrong but if their attitudes were based in the Lord, the disagreements would be far less intense. So Paul tells them to “Rejoice.” Rejoicing lowers the intensity. Rejoicing puts you in contact with God. If brothers and sisters would rejoice more, there would be far fewer problems in the body of Christ.
More often than not the disharmony in the church has to do with the misplaced personal feelings and issues. In other words, people won’t or don’t resolve the issues in their personal lives. Instead they bring them into the church and take them out on others. Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t issues in the church that are legitimate, that need to be talked through, but most of the church issues that I see are issues over personalities not Christian principles.
Paul reminds us that it’s not the issue that causes the problem. Everyone has issues. What’s causing the problem is the personal investment and anxiety that surrounds the issue being argued over. The assumption being that what’s really at stake isn’t the issue at hand, but my very personhood, my very being. I’m the one who’s being challenged. I’m the one whose being told that I’m wrong, or that I’m not needed anymore. Mind you none of that is being said, but that’s the assumption. So an issue such as including more people in the decision making process really ends up being about stepping on someone’s toes, not on what’s best for the church and we end up fighting about turf and territory.
And it’s this emotional intensity that we carry with us that make the issues difficult to resolve. And if we could lower the emotional intensity we could resolve the issues fairly easily. If we would rejoice, we’d be easier to deal with. If we would rejoice, we wouldn’t be so uptight. If we would rejoice, we’d let more things roll off our back.
Number 3. Paul says rejoicing in suffering means to be worthy of your suffering. Rejoice in the Lord always. And Paul adds a phrase of emphasis, “And I will say it again, rejoice!” I believe in the gap between the “rejoice in the Lord always” and “I will say it again,” are the real experiences of life. Nobody get through life without suffering. I don’t care how good-looking you are, I don’t care how much money or power you’ve got. Tragedy is an absolute.
The question is: “Are you worthy of your sufferings?” Ellie Weisel, a survivor of Auschwitz wrote: “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the ones who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number but they offered sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a person but one thing, the last human freedom: the ability to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances – to choose one’s own way. In the final analysis, it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision.”
To be able to be in a concentration camp and comfort others is to be worthy. Many of us suffer and we cop out. We quit. Many of us suffer and we get bitter. Many of us are hurt and we become vindictive. Oh, but to be worthy of your sufferings. To bless when you have been cursed, to love when you’ve been hated. To forgive when you have been wronged.
Learn from your sufferings and be transformed by them. Suffering can make you humble and compassionate. It can give you wisdom. And it can deepen your faith in God. And it can do the same for others.
Number 4. Rejoice in the Lord. Notice it doesn’t say, “Rejoice in your bank account, or your good looks, or your accomplishments. It doesn’t say any of that. It says, “Rejoice in the Lord.” Rejoice in the ability of God to heal and deliver. Rejoice in the power of God to make a way out of no way. Rejoice in God’s ability to carve a tunnel of hope in a mountain of despair.
Whatever the circumstances – I’ve learned to be content, says Paul, which just means I’m closer to God than I used to be and I know how to get to God quicker than I used to. My joy doesn’t depend on circumstances or feelings. It depends upon the Lord!
So if by chance you find yourself with cancer – with all of your hair gone; if you find yourself out of work; if you find yourself lost, lonely, or voted off the show – Allow the Spirit of God to heal your spirit. And I will say it again – rejoice in the Lord! Always! Amen.