“Rejoice in the Lord”
The book of
Philippians was written to the saints at
In the midst of terribly difficult circumstances, even in the prospect of being put to death because of his faithfulness in preaching the gospel, Paul repeatedly speaks of his unbridled joy in Christ and calls upon us to “rejoice in the Lord always.”
“The words ‘joy’ and ‘rejoice’ appear sixteen times in this brief letter, and references to Christ (including pronouns) are found 61 times in its 104 verses. It is obvious that Christ, not circumstances, was the source of Paul’s joy.”
In the midst
of great heaviness Paul here teaches us to rejoice in Christ. In the midst of
great tribulation he teaches us to be content in our Savior. The Philippians
might well remember that he and Silas rejoiced as they sang praises to God with
bleeding backs when they were prisoners at
Matters of Joy
Pause to consider those things presented in these chapters as things in which Paul rejoiced and for which he tells us we ought to rejoice.
1. He rejoiced in the sweet fellowship of God’s saints.
Paul counted the
Paul was confident that these Philippian believers (and all believers) would persevere unto the end, because he was confident that the work of God cannot be overturned. In verse 7 he says it was right for him to think this way, because they had been made partakers of the same grace of God he had experienced and proclaimed.
Look at the tender words he uses to describe his feelings for these saints he had not seen in a long, long time. ― “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” (v. 3). ― “I have you in my heart” (v. 7). ―“I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ” (v. 8). ― I pray for you, that you may be “filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God” (v. 11).
2. He rejoiced that, in God’s good providence, his sufferings for the gospel were one means by which the Lord God was pleased to advance the gospel (-20; ).
3. Paul rejoiced and was completely happy to suffer, or to die, or to live, as the Lord willed, because he knew that Christ would be magnified and the best interests of his people served, as God graciously accomplished his will (1:19-26).
4. This faithful servant of God found his joy full when he knew that God’s saints walked and worshipped together as one (2:1-2).
The unity of God’s saints is something Paul mentions in all his epistles. It was a great grief to him when the fellowship of God’s saints was interrupted and a great joy when he saw it being promoted.
5. Paul rejoiced in the company and ministries of his fellow-laborers in the gospel.
He is truly the servant of Christ who rejoices in and promotes the labors of other servants of Christ, as laborers together with him. Paul specifically mentions Timothy and Epaphroditus (2:19-30). He could not have spoken more highly than he did of his young friend Timothy (2:19-23). And he could not have spoken more honorably and tenderly of his old friend Epaphroditus, who was (apparently) the pastor of the Philippian church (2:25-30).
How could a man in the midst of such adversities express such joy in so many directions? How could a man who was about to be executed on trumped up charges be joyful and content? What was the secret of his joy? Read Philippians 4:4-7 and you will find the answer.
“Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
6. Paul rejoiced in, and would have us rejoice in, the Lord.
If ever we learn to rejoice in the Lord, we will be able to rejoice in the Lord always, no matter what our circumstance may be. “Rejoice in the Lord.” If ever we learn to rejoice in the Lord, we will learn to “rejoice in the Lord always.” I cannot rejoice in my sorrows; but I can rejoice in the Lord who sent them. I cannot rejoice in my bed of languishing; but I can rejoice in the Lord who makes my bed. I cannot rejoice in bereavement; but I can rejoice in the Lord who gives and takes away as he will. I cannot rejoice in my emptiness; but I can rejoice in the Lord’s fulness. I cannot rejoice in my pain; but I can rejoice in his presence.
Life and Death
In the first chapter Paul teaches us, by his own marvelous example, what our attitude ought to be about life and death as believers (1:20-24). Of this one thing, every believer ought to be certain. ― “Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.” If we are confident of this, what more can we want?
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.”
The Mind of Christ
In Philippians 2 Paul admonishes us ever to have the mind of Christ. In verses 5-11 he tells us of the matchless goodness and grace of our Savior as the voluntary Servant of God, descending step by step in humiliation, until he had fulfilled all the will of God as our Redeemer in this world, telling us that his humiliation under the hand of God was not only the accomplishment of our salvation, but also his path to exaltation.
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
May God give us grace to have the mind of Christ. That is the secret to unity and fellowship in the kingdom of God. If we live with the mind of Christ, we will walk in sweet fellowship, each preferring the other better than himself (2:1-5).
In chapter 3 we come to the heart of this epistle. The chapter begins with another call to rejoice. Paul says, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” We ought always, in the depths of our hearts and souls, to rejoice in the Lord. No matter what our providential experiences and circumstances are, we always have reason to rejoice in the Lord. Here is an exhortation to joy. What a blessed command! “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say rejoice!” Rejoice in the greatness of his person as our all-sufficient Substitute. Rejoice in the power of his blood, which cleanses us from all sin. Rejoice in the perfection of his righteousness, which is imputed to us for justification. Rejoice in the abundance of his grace, which is always sufficient for us. Rejoice in the immutability of his love, which never fails. Rejoice in the rule of his providence, which works all things together for our good. Rejoice in the fact of his intercession, which is continual and effectual on our behalf. Rejoice in the fact that your names are written in heaven.
This is the exhortation with which Paul opens this chapter. ― “Rejoice in the Lord!” May God give us grace ever to do so for the glory of Christ and the good of his people. This is “the joy of faith” (1:25).
In verse 2, the apostle gives us a serious warning. ― “Beware of dogs.” He warns us to beware of false prophets. He calls them dogs because that is what the Word of God calls male prostitutes. False prophets are men who have, for their own sakes, prostituted the gospel of Christ and the glory of God (Deut. 23:18; Isa. 56:10-11). He continues, “beware of evil workers.” ― This is a warning against those who teach, preach, and promote any system of man centered, works based, free will religion. Our Savior calls such people “workers of iniquity” (Matt. 7:22-23). Paul is not finished with his warning yet. Verse 2 concludes with “beware of the concision.” ― Those who are of the concision are men and women who cut, mutilate, and torture their bodies in hope of winning God’s favor. He specifically refers to those who taught that believers had to be circumcised. But the warning reaches to all who teach that holiness is to be attained by depriving ourselves of things created for us and observing religious ceremonies and taboos (Col. 2:16-23). In essence Paul is saying, “Beware of Christless religion”. Beware of any religious custom, doctrine, or service that is centered in yourself and encourages you to focus attention on yourself.
In verse 3 we are given a description of true religion. ― “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” True religion is not man centered, but Christ centered. True religion is not ceremonial, but spiritual. True religion is not a matter of creed, but of conviction. True religion is not outward, but inward. “For we are the circumcision,” God’s true, covenant people, the Israel of God, Abraham’s true children, which “worship God in the Spirit.” We worship God as he is revealed in the Scriptures, by the power of his Holy Spirit, in our spirits, and in a spiritual manner. True worship is spiritual worship, not carnal, ceremonial ritualism (John 4:23-24).
God’s elect are people who “rejoice in Christ Jesus.” ― We trust the Lord Jesus Christ alone, placing all our confidence in him as our Savior. We are complete in him (1 Cor. 1:30-31; Col. 2:9-10). “And have no confidence in the flesh.” ― We place absolutely no confidence in our flesh, the experiences, emotions, or (imaginary) excellencies of our flesh. The privileges of the flesh, the feelings of the flesh, and the works of the flesh are no basis of confidence before God.
In verses 4-8 Paul is set before us as an example of self-denial. Self-denial is an essential aspect of saving faith. Though it increasingly comprehends all aspects of life as we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, self-denial begins with and is essentially a denial of all personal worth and merit as a grounds of hope before God.
Here is a legalist of the highest order laying aside the filthy rags of his self-righteousness for the blessed, pure, perfect righteousness of Christ. Paul counted all his fleshly, carnal, natural privileges, religious distinctiveness, and educational advantages as nothing but dung before God. He placed no confidence in his flesh. He found that one Pearl of Great Price, and sold everything he had to get it (Matt. 13:45-46). This was done on the Damascus Road when the Lord saved him (v. 7). And this was a decision he made everyday with increasing, growing commitment and consecration to Christ. He counted all things but dung for Christ.
Why? What was the cause of this man’s self-denial, consecration, and commitment? What made this man willing to forsake everything and follow Christ? Paul was inspired, motivated, and driven to the point of utter obsession by four great ambitions of faith.
Ambitions of Faith
He gives us those four great ambitions in verses 8-11. Look at the last line of verse 8.
1. “That I may win Christ!”
What an ambition! The life of faith is the lifelong pursuit of Christ. Faith looks upon Christ as the most precious, most desirable, most lovely, and most valuable Person and Object in the world. The more he is known, the more he is wanted. Therefore true faith willingly forsakes all to follow him. Christ is the Treasure hidden in the field, for which we would gladly spend all. He is the Pearl of Great Price, for which we must sell all. Jesus Christ is the “one thing needful” who must be chosen. Christ is the one thing we must have. Blessed are those who can say with Paul, “I count all things loss that I may win Christ.”
2. “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (v. 9).
This is the believer’s standing. We are in Christ. This is Christianity. This is salvation ― to be in Christ, nothing less, nothing more, nothing different. It is not partly in Christ and partly in the law, or partly in the ordinances, or partly in the church. To be saved is to be in Christ. Religion is knowing doctrines and facts. Salvation is knowing God (John 17:3; 1 John 5:20). Religion is knowing what I believe. Christianity is knowing whom I believe (2 Tim. 2:12). Religion is being reformed. Salvation is being regenerated (John 3:3). Religion makes men new converts. Christianity makes us new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17). Religion is being in the church. Salvation is being in Christ (John 15:1; Eph. 5:30). Believers are people who are in Christ by God’s eternal decree, the Holy Spirit’s operations of grace, and by personal faith in the Son of God.
To be in Christ is to have perfect righteousness before God. Our righteousness is not something we establish by performing good works, but something Christ established for us as our Representative before God. We do not make ourselves righteous by our obedience. Christ made us righteous by his obedience to the law, satisfying its every demand for us as our Substitute (Rom. 5:19). Our righteousness before God is the righteousness of God in Christ imputed to us by God himself.
As we stand before the holy Lord God, we want to be found in Christ while we live in this world, as we offer our services, prayers, and sacrifices to him, when we leave this world, and when we stand before his great bar of judgment.
3. “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (v. 10).
To know Christ in the power of his resurrection is to know that his resurrection is the assurance of our justification (Rom. 4:25). It is to be born of God, living by that same power that raised Christ from the dead (Eph. 1:19). The power of his resurrection guarantees our resurrection (1 Cor. 15:47-49). To know Christ in the power of his resurrection is to live everyday, experimentally, walking in the knowledge of the power of his resurrection. Walking with Christ in the newness of life, we want the power of his resurrection to dominate, control, and direct our lives in all things. We want to be continually made new by him.
To know Christ “in the fellowship of his sufferings” is to know our personal interests in his sin-atoning sufferings unto death as our Substitute. It is to know that he died for me. There is only one way that anyone can know that, and that is by trusting him. To know him in the fellowship of sufferings is to know, being convinced by God the Holy Spirit through the revelation of the gospel, that he has put away my sin by the sacrifice of himself, that he has brought in everlasting righteousness for me by his obedience unto death, that he has fully redeemed me from the judgment and condemnation of God’s holy law by his sin-atoning death as my Substitute (John 16:8-11), and that he has obtained eternal redemption for me (Heb. 9:12).
As his sufferings are Christ’s glory, Paul wanted Christ’s sufferings to be his glory (Gal. 6:14). He wanted to know Christ and the fellowship of his sufferings to such an extent that he was ever “being made conformable unto his death.” He wanted to be conformed to Christ in his death, to be entirely consecrated to the glory of God, perfectly submissive to the will of God, and motivated by nothing but love for his God and his people.
4. “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (vv. 11-14)
Certainly, this includes a great desire for the resurrection of his body at the last day. But, primarily, the yearning spoken of here is a yearning for that moral, spiritual resurrection of grace that lifts us out of the death and darkness of sin. The world, the flesh, and all human life are death. In Christ there is life, real life, eternal life, a life of righteousness, peace and joy in communion with God. This is what Paul wanted. This is the thing he continually sought (2 Cor. 5:1-9). He wanted all that the Lord God purposed for him in eternity and Christ purchased for him at Calvary (Eph. 1:3-6). He wanted to be like Christ.
These are the ambitions of every believer’s heart, the goals he seeks, the things for which he lives. Children of God, set your hearts upon these things and, by the grace of God, you shall have them. ― “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: (Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (vv. 20-21). These are the things Paul has in mind, which he urges us to think upon continually, that we might have peace and joy and contentment in this world (4:8-13).
An Acceptable Sacrifice
In the latter part of chapter 4 Paul speaks of the thoughtful, loving gift the saints at Philippi sent to him by Epaphroditus, assuring them that their gift to him was “an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God” (v. 18). Then, he assures them that as they had ministered to him according to their ability, so the Lord God would supply all their needs according to his ability. ― “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (v. 19). Notice, Paul promises that God will supply the needs of his saints, not “out of,” but “according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” That means that he supplies our needs according to his infinite ability and infinite goodness in Christ.
Three Great Comforts
Go back to chapter 1 and look at three great facts revealed in this chapter that sustained and comforted Paul as he lived in this world and as he prepared to leave it. Let us learn them, and they will comfort and sustain us as well.
1. Paul understood that everything that happened to him was brought to pass by the will of God and would serve the cause of Christ’s gospel (v. 12).
2. He knew that everything he experienced in this world was for the good of his soul and worked for his own eternal salvation (v. 19).
3. And Paul knew that everything he suffered in this world, he suffered by the will of God (v. 29).