Rejoice! Always! Yes?
It’s another verse of the day day. Had we used the Common Service today, instead of the Service of the Word, I would have spoken the verse of the day, rather than we as a congregation singing John 20, “These words are written, etc.” And I would have gotten to speak one of those beloved, yet bewildering verses, Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Rejoice? Always? Really? This verse stands next to Matthew 6’s “Do not worry” as one of those oft-quoted and oft-questioned verses. Who could possibly rejoice always? Who would want to? Paul says, “You do.”
He tells you to be glad, be delighted, thrive! Rejoice! In the rest of his letter to the Philippians he explains why. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”, because “it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” Rejoice, because God works in you, from beginning to end. He’s the Alpha and Omega of our faith.
Paul goes on. Through faith, “you share in God’s grace with me” and because you share in that grace, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” Rejoice, because whether you live or die, with Christ you win!
And then He showed you that very Christ, “who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Rejoice, because your God doesn’t sit far off in some ivory tower, He sits next to you and bleeds with you, bleeds for you!
Oh what an ode to joy you can sing seeing this Christ! Because He did more than historical things: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” Rejoice that God shows you what’s rubbish and gives you what’s worth keeping: Christ, and faith in Him!
Oh, how you can rejoice, “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead!” Rejoice that your “citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.” Rejoice that regardless of what benefits citizenship in this country confers, you have a far greater citizenship in heaven through faith in Christ!
How can you not rejoice? Paul writes from prison filled with joy because He knew these things. In chains, he was free. So are you, through faith in Christ. Yet we tend to not rejoice. We tend to get downhearted, fearful, cynical.
Look at today’s lessons from Proverbs, Philemon, and Luke. We get cynical dealing with mockers and relying on God’s wisdom and God’s wisdom only. It’s hard to deal with the abuse of unbelief, and it’s hard to fight the urge to supplement fear of the LORD with something else. We fear doing favors for others. “Why should I let this guy off the hook?” It’s hard to rejoice when it feels like we’re being taken advantage of, or we have to give up what’s rightfully ours. We get downright disheartened to hear the strict limits Jesus sets on faith and the high cost He says comes from following Him: “Hate my father and mother? Carry the cross? Count the cost? There’s a cost? Give up everything? I can’t. Don’t really want to.”
Truth is, acting this way isn’t just fearful and cynical – it’s disobedient. These are God’s direct commands. “Fear me only! Serve out of love! Give up everything for me!” To not do that, well, God’s textbook defines such disobeying as sin. And that same book says that no sinner enters eternal life. No two ways around that.
And in Pauline terms, it’s failing to rejoice. Because you’ve moved outside how Paul qualifies that rejoicing: “Rejoice in the Lord!” Within the Lord and His Word, among His blessings, in His Christ, we rejoice. You’ve lived long enough to know that apart from Christ happiness and joy in jobs, family, money, birthdays, gifts, football, and all the stuff of this world is transitory at best. It’s looking for joy in all the wrong places when the only true joy to be found is in the Lord and His Christ! Apart from that there’s nothing to really rejoice in at all, not to mention, “always!” But in Christ we rejoice, because He turns our grief to joy. Just by knowing Him, finding Him, holding on to Him in repentance and faith. Thankfully the LORD comforts and reminds us through Solomon: “Through me your days will be many, and years will be added to your life…. Your wisdom will reward you.” In other words, long life, everlasting life through Christ, because through Christ God forgives that which cuts short your life: your mocking, sinful, disobedient failure to rejoice. He forgives. We rejoice! Always!
There’s that difficult adverb. Rejoice – always! At all times. Forever. This only becomes possible when you push yourself to the side and Christ to the center. Only then will you “extol the LORD at all times.” Because then you’ve heard Christ who preached from the mountain, “Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven.” Then jobs, family, money, birthdays, gifts, football, and all the stuff of this world become a source of joy, because they are set next to Christ and seen as coming from Him. You see them in the proper perspective. And then you can rejoice always, even in suffering, even in disappointment, even in the hard work of rebuking mockers and doing favors without reward or repayment, the hard work of pushing aside all else, even family, for Christ, because Christ will soon reveal His glory and make real the joy of forgiveness lived in that place where we no longer need forgiveness!
So convinced is Paul that he says: “I will say it again, rejoice!” Repetition for effect. Repetition to drive a point home. Repetition because you need to hear this again. Repetition that helps you understand that this is your privilege and pleasure, to rejoice, in the Lord, always! It’s not pie in the sky stuff for Paul to say things like, “Give thanks in all circumstances” or “We also rejoice in our sufferings,” or for James to say, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” The first disciples of Jesus weren’t out of their minds when they went home “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”
If that sounds crazy to you, it’s because you’ve forgotten that every moment of every day you are able to be “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.” You’ve forgotten Christ who went to the cross’s affliction for you and gives you hope. So, we need to hear this from Paul on this Sunday, because we tire of mockers and fearing the LORD, and it sickens us to helping others, and we don’t always wish to give up anything else for Jesus. We need to hear this because we get so easily diverted towards joys that are not truly joys, as sinners ourselves pained by the shackles of our own sinfulness. We need to hear this so that our whole mindset can be turned topsy-turvy, so that we see that it is a privilege and a joy we have, something to rejoice in, not a burden, not a hateful job, that is, that united with Christ we GET to do these things, we get to love God above all things and love our neighbor as ourselves. Because He loved us first.
It’s not always skittles and beer in a corrupt and sinful world, yet in Christ rejoice in Gospel triumphs, in souls won (including yours!), in repentance gained (yours too!), in favors done, in service rendered faithfully, in honor given, in love displayed. Rejoice when it happens; rejoice when you get to do it. Because it’s God working in you and through you. Even if it’s only heaping burning coals upon hardened, hate-filled degenerates, still, you get to do this, in Christ, for Christ, and to Christ. For where you are together in faith in Him, there He is. So you can rejoice. Always. Because it’s really just practice for the eternal rejoicing of heaven. Amen!