THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT
Philippians 4:4-7 – Year C
“Living a joyful life”
Philippians 4:4-7 (NIV)
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I mentioned to a person that my sermon theme for this week was on ‘living a joyful life’ as Philippians tells us “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!” With a smile on their face, the person replied, “Well, good luck with that”. Maybe that’s how we could be feeling at this time of the year. There’s so much on at present, that to simply get through each day is enough of a challenge without any additional burdens, like trying to enjoy it as we go!
C. S. Lewis once said, “Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he/she cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Lewis has captured what it is that God is offering to each of us. It is indeed ‘infinite joy’ – but we all too easily settle for ‘second best’ and do not seek that which God would give to us – the very best. We too easily resign ourselves to the world of ‘mud pies’ than the ‘holiday at the sea’. It is the latter that God wants for us and the former which satan deludes us into accepting.
It’s as simple as this. Joy is the by-product of obedience.
As one would expect, people actually strive to live a life of joy and actively pursue a ‘joyful life’. They have pursued joy in every avenue imaginable. Some have successfully found it while others have not.
Let me share with you some of the places where this elusive quality of ‘joy’ has been pursued.
Unbelief — Voltaire was an infidel of the most pronounced type. He wrote: “I wish I had never been born.” We may conclude that all religion is a delusion – or as Marx said, ‘the opiate of the masses’, and endeavour to reject it entirely. However, if we take that path we will forever have a place of emptiness inside us that none of the following can ever fill.
Pleasure — Lord Byron lived a life of pleasure if anyone did. He wrote: “The worm, the canker (evil), and grief are mine alone.” Living a hedonistic life does not bring joy. While looking at the lives of the rich and famous is not something that I’d recommend, like me you may have heard of the antics of some of them and the sad end that many wind up with – notwithstanding all the pleasure that they have at their ‘finger tips’.
Money — Jay Gould, an American millionaire, had plenty of that. When dying, he said: “I suppose I am the most miserable man on earth.” It is true that ‘money can’t buy happiness’. Money can be used, and is used to mask incredible loneliness in some. Money cannot buy health, friends, family, trust, loyalty or faith. While I am sure that many of us could do with ‘just a little more money’, but the reality is that Scripture tells us that we are not to be concerned with it.
Position and Fame — Lord Beaconsfield enjoyed more than his share of both. He wrote: “Youth is a mistake; manhood a struggle; old age a regret.” How sad to have gone through life like this and found no pleasure in any stage of life. What a waste. Each person is uniquely gifted by God for a purpose and a reason. Life will always seem a waste when we ignore God’s will and desire for each of us. 
We’ve looked (ever so briefly) at places where people have endeavoured to seek joy. They have found these venues severely wanting.
So, where then is real joy found? The answer is simple, in a life of faith and obedience lived under Christ alone.
Today I want to share with you an idea that some here will find simply too radical. Maybe you’ve not yet got to that point in your faith life where you are willing to simply follow this Scriptural admonition. It’s possible that you have considered it, and then rationalised it away as not being appropriate for today’s world.
‘Living a joyful life’ requires a total rethink in some cases regarding the purpose of life itself.
Rick Warren in his book the Purpose Driven Life says this:
“It’s not about you.”
“The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfilment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by His purpose and for His purpose.”
“The search for the purpose of life has puzzled people for thousands of years. That’s because we typically begin at the wrong starting point – ourselves. We ask self centred questions like. What do I want to be? What should I do with my life? What are my goals, my ambitions, my dreams for my future? But focusing on ourselves will never reveal our life’s purpose. The Bible says, ‘It is God who directs the lives of His creatures; everyone’s life is in His power’”.
What’s coming up in twelve days time? Yes – less than a fortnight to go! Yes – it’s Christmas! What do you enjoy about Christmas? – think hard! I am sure that we enjoy the getting together with family and friends, even if there are times of friction to be dealt with (maybe this is an opportunity to deal with any old ‘prickly’ issues). We enjoy having time to talk, relax and eat together. But there’s something more about Christmas. We have the joy of giving to one another. We have the joy of seeing the looks on the faces – especially the children. We get real joy out of giving!
The Bible has around 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 on faith but more than 2,350 verses on money and possessions.
Here it is in a nutshell. If you want to live a joyful life – then maybe you’ve tried all sorts of ways of bringing this to pass, some of which I may have already mentioned. But have you ever tried this Biblical admonition? Have you ever tried giving?
At this time I need to make a disclaimer. No, this is not a sermon to get you to think about increasing your giving to your congregation because the treasurers of Bethany, Grace and St Johns have got on my ‘case’. This is not a sermon because we have over-spent and are trying to balance up 2009 before moving into 2010. This is not a sermon because God needs your money (actually God does not need money – and remember it’s not yours anyway, you are simply a steward for that which God has blessed you with).
If you seriously want joy in your life – then try obeying God’s direction regarding money.
The reality is this. Christians of all income levels have experienced spiritual joy, supernatural grace and divine help through the practice of making a specific commitment to give 10% or more of their resources to the Lord’s work. When you make it a priority to give to God first, it will ultimately bring you greater financial freedom and blessings into your personal lives and to the ministries you support. Giving it away is the beginning of a joyful life as the following points demonstrate. I am speaking about tithing.
1. It is a tried and proven pattern of giving by godly people throughout the ages (regardless of cultures and income levels).
2. It will help you revere God more in your life.
3. It will bring God’s wisdom and order to your finances and will help you harness the ‘dragon’ of materialism.
4. It will serve as a practical reminder that God is the Owner of everything you have.
5. It will allow you to experience God’s creative care and provisions in ways you would not otherwise experience.
6. It will encourage your spiritual growth and trust in God.
7. It is treasure in heaven.
8. It will strengthen the ministry, outreach, and stability of your church.
9. It will help provide the means to keep those who serve our parish as, ministry support, pastoral care and pastors financially supported.
10. It will help accomplish needed building projects and renovations.
When you go to a doctor for your annual check-up, he or she will often begin to poke, prod, and press various places, all the while asking, “Does this hurt? How about this?”
If you cry out in pain, one of two things has happened. Either the doctor has pushed too hard, without the right sensitivity. Or, more likely, there’s something wrong, and the doctor will say, “We’d better do some more tests. It’s not supposed to hurt there!”
So it is when pastors preach on financial responsibility, and certain members cry out in discomfort, criticising the message and the messenger. Either the pastor has pushed too hard. Or perhaps there’s something wrong. In that case, I say, “My friend, we’re in need of the Great Physician because it’s not supposed to hurt there.”
Martin Luther said, “Take a look at your own heart, and you will soon find out what has stuck to it and where your treasure is. It is easy to determine whether hearing the Word of God, living according to it, and achieving such a life gives you as much enjoyment and calls forth as much diligence from you as does accumulating and saving money and property.”
The reality is this. God does not need your money – you need to be released from its grasp on you. Interestingly, it is money that is usually the last thing that people will turn over to God and trust Him with and if they get annoyed with the Church it’s the first thing that they will reclaim. It is you and your freedom under God that is at the heart of this sermon.
God wants the very best for you and has done everything that can be done so that you can live under Him and His Kingdom and serve Him in righteousness and blessedness. But at the end of the day, as it was in the Garden of Eden you have a choice to make. Do you succumb to satan’s temptation that ‘one little bite won’t hurt’ and therefore refuse to release your grip on money and continue to let it be the ruler of your life? Or do you find the real freedom that is to be found in turning it over to the Master, as Scripture shows us?
We have a simple choice. On the one hand you can continue just as you’ve always done (which will be the temptation for many) knowing that God will continue to love you. Or you may just want to experience this joyful life that awaits as we follow God’s plan in Holy Scripture.
X The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen. X
 Philippians 4:4 (NLT).
 Matthew 6:24 (NIV).
 Adapted by jok from Galaxie Software. (2002; 2002). 10,000 Sermon Illustrations. Biblical Studies Press.
 Warren, Rick The Purpose Driven Life, Zondervan 2002. pg 17.
 Job 12:10 (TEV).
 Dayton, Howard, Your Money Counts Crown Financial Ministries 1996, pg 8.
 Matthew 25:14-30.
 Adapted by jok from Galaxie Software. (2002; 2002). 10,000 Sermon Illustrations. Biblical Studies Press.
 Genesis 14:17–20, 28:16–22; Leviticus 27:30; Proverbs 3:9, 10; Malachi 3:7–15; Matthew 23:23.
 Deuteronomy 14:22, 23.
 Ecclesiastes 5:10; Matthew 6:19–21, 24–34; Luke 12:16–21; 1 Timothy 6:6–10, 17–19.
 1 Chronicles 29:11–18; Psalm 24; 1, 2; Psalm 59:10–12; Haggai 2:8.
 Deuteronomy 14:23; 1 Kings 17; Proverbs 3:9, 10; Haggai 1:4–11, 2:15–10; Malachi 3:7–15; Luke 6:38; Proverbs 3:5, 6; 2 Corinthians 8:5.
 Deuteronomy 14:23; Proverbs 3:5, 6; Haggai 1:4–11, 2:15–19; Malachi 3:8–10; 2 Corinthians 8:5.
 Matthew 6:19-21; 1 Timothy 6:18, 19; Hebrews 6:10;
3 John 8;.
 Acts 2:42–27, 4:32; 2 Corinthians 9:12, 13.
 2 Kings 4:8–10; Luke 8:3; 1 Corinthians 9:9–11,14; Galatians 6:6; Philippians 4:15–19; 1 Timothy 5:17, 18; 3 John 5–8.
 Exodus 35, 36; 2 Kings 12:2–16; 1 Chronicles 29:2–10; 2 Chronicles 24:4–14; Ezekiel 1:4–6.
 Ben Rogers, cited in Galaxie Software. (2002; 2002). 10,000 Sermon Illustrations. Biblical Studies Press.