The Expository Files

 

God’s Joyous People And Their Guarded Hearts

Philippians 4:4-7




“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus,” Phil. 4:4-7.

When we come to an expression like this, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” It is necessary for us to give this joy a very specific and biblical definition.

There is a big difference between earthly happiness and spiritual joy. Earthly happiness is produced and maintained by events, by things, by experiences, often involving money and moods and materialism. Spiritual joy is a product of one’s good relationship with God through Christ and is constant (so long as faith is active). Earthly happiness fluctuates greatly as things happen or do not happen.

You can be broke and in jail yet “rejoice in the Lord.” Paul did not enjoy good living conditions when he wrote these words. He was in chains and most certainly, a condemned man in the eyes of the Roman authorities. But, because of the activity of his faith in Christ, there was a constant joy he had. And he urges every Christian to have it.

This word “rejoice” cannot be understood properly if you equate this with earthly happiness. Earthly happiness depends on circumstances that change daily. This spiritual joy is a product of one’s faith in Christ, and this joy can endure changing earthly circumstances. It is that constant hopeful, peaceful, joyful state of mind – knowing that even when things here on earth are against you, God is for you – and you, by faith in Christ, are firmly attached to Him. If you don’t have this joy - it is time to examine your faith, your depth of trust and your obedience to God. It is time to plow deeper, take more time to be holy, spend more time in prayer and Bible study and make serious effort toward consistent application of Bible truth every day.

Do you see what this is about? This spiritual joy doesn’t mean you will never suffer grief or be disappointed or be sad. It means – these temporary emotions will not defeat you or hinder you from serving the Lord.

Sometimes – the one thing you know for certain is, God loves you and you are doing your best to obey Him. You don’t know if you will be flush with cash or broke. You may have good health today – but don’t know what will happen to your body tomorrow. Your relationships may all be solid and stable today – but torn by conflict tomorrow.

But the one thing you know is – God loves you and you are doing your best to obey Him. It was that knowledge that enabled Paul to rejoice while in jail under threat of death – and that knowledge, he was now writing: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say, rejoice!”

Verse 5: “Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.”

In various translations the word is, “gentleness …forbearance…moderation.” Now take a moment and think about what you would associate with these words: Gentleness, Forbearance, Moderation. Maybe it will help to think of the opposite: Harsh, Impatient, Imposing. So this is a call to be gracious, patient, showing forbearance or moderation, even though your outward circumstances may be far less than satisfactory. This is the composure of the one who rejoices in the Lord. This is the thought and emotional discipline that will be visible and known among those who rejoice in the Lord.

I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ - I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away! (2 Cor. 10:1)

If you need help with this – just keep reading, into verse 6: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” Now here is a current problem we know about.

Anxious about finances? Things are broke you can’t afford to fix; will you continue to have a job; what’s happening in the economy; what about retirement? We are anxious about health – especially as we grow older, we may wonder if we will have cancer or Alzheimer’s, or be disabled. We worry about our children and grandchildren. Will they turn out OK? Will they avoid the temptations of our age? Will they marry a good person? Will they have a happy home? We worry about the neighborhood, the church, the nation and our friends.

As Christians, we must learn to identify anxiety, and then learn to apply what God’s Word says to handle it. This may be harder for some people, but this is absolutely true. As Christians, we must learn to identify anxiety, and then learn to apply what God’s Word says, to handle it.

Now this says, “Be Anxious For Nothing!” This may be one of those statements in the Bible we read and we don’t just jump on board right away. We may try to figure some way to take the edge off of it, or give it some interpretation that makes it easier to digest. I’m not going to give you any help in that. “Be anxious for nothing.” That’s what it says to you, and that’s what it says to me, as hard as it may be to accept.

In the NIV: “Do not be anxious about anything.” If you are living right, in the Lord, and rejoicing in the Lord, and letting your gentleness be evident to all men . . . there is nothing that should drive you crazy! Maybe this will help.

This word “anxiety” means – excessive care that distracts. The Bible doesn’t say – don’t care about anything, or don’t worry about anything. But when that care reaches a point, where you are paralyzed and distracted from doing your duties in life - you need to stop that! You stop it, by seeing the anxiety as unreasonable – and re-establishing or strengthening your trust in God.

“Be Anxious For Nothing.” And it may also help to remember, Jesus made it clear – in His sermon on the mount – anxiety stems from a lack of faith and from a wrong focus on the things of this world, instead of the things of the Kingdom. {See Matt. 6:25-34, especially verses 30 & 33).

To deal with anxiety – with excessive care that distracts us from good living – ONE, recognize it as excessive. TWO, trust in God. THREE, remember that worry accomplishes nothing. That third point is directly from the words of Jesus in Matt. 6. He said, “Do not worry.” And He said, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

If I’m wrong in what I’ve said about this – you can certainly challenge me – but when we have that conversation or email, we will have to have the Bible open to this passage – and talk about what it says and means. (I’m at w_berkley@yahoo.com).

Now back to verse 6 in Phil. 4. It would be one thing for Paul to say, “Be anxious for nothing,” and end that with a period. He doesn’t do that. After telling us what we should not do. He tells us what we should do.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

What if I gave you this paraphrase: Don’t worry yourself to death … pray! Would that be a fair statement of what this teaches? It sounds so utterly simple, and should be something that each of us know about through experience.

Do you have a free hour? You can use that hour to either worry or pray. Which would be the better use of the hour? Of course, prayer would be better. Try that. And in these prayers we pray – three things should be present, captured by three words in verse 6: Supplication, Thanksgiving & Requests.

So, let me put this together. If you are excessively concerned . . . if worry is keeping you up at night, and keeping you from your responsibilities during the day, and just driving you crazy - Recognize that problem. Re-commit yourself to trust in God. And take that time you spend fretting, and pray – including in those prayers, confessions of your need; gratitude, and asking God to help . . . always trusting, He will respond wisely to His people.

Got it?

“Do you think we should pray about the little things in our lives, or just the big things?” My answer would be – everything in your life that bothers you and distracts you, is big to God. Give it to Him.

There is another critical part of this. Right in the middle of this text, there is a statement that may seem to be almost parenthetical – at the end of verse 5, “The Lord is at hand.” This is about the presence of God in the lives of His people. The closer we move to Him, the better we are able to cope. “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you,” (Jas. 4:8).

Scripture teaches we should obey the Gospel and hold God close and follow the teaching of Christ, so that in time of trial, God is already there – and I’m saying, if He is already in your life, He will move closer to you when you are crushed, oppressed or opposed.

That’s the idea here in Phil. 4:5, “The Lord is at hand.” This is not about the Lord coming soon. This is not about the end of the world, or the second coming at all.

This is about God’s nearness to His people, especially when His people are under pressure, anxious, worried and feel defeated by their earthly conditions and moving closer to the Lord. If you have a right view of God and a right relationship with God before those wrenching periods of difficulty – God’s presence in the trial will be real, helpful, and perfectly dependable.

So, let me conclude with these two thoughts we can take with us:

ONE, it is urgent – to form a close, personal relationship with God now . . . before you find yourself broken under the difficulties of life on earth.

TWO, it is urgent – if you are being crushed and worn down by stress now . . . to turn to God, repent of neglecting Him . . .

Let your requests be made known to Him, and put Him first from now on. When life is hard – God is your perfect and best equipped helper. And here’s what you receive: “…the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.” That “will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Interested?

y Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 18.9; August 2011

 

 

 

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