by Mike Ratliff
I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me. Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. (Philippians 2:25-3:1 ESV)
God uses our circumstances to shape, prune, and purify our hearts. This is that part of our sanctification that can be quite stressful and even seem as if we are in the flames of God’s wrath at times. However, what is happening to God’s people whom He takes through sickness, painful circumstances, frustrations, or anything that seems at times that is bent on destroying us, is that they are being humbled and trained for service of the King. Only the humble are usable in the Kingdom, but people are naturally full of pride. Sometimes our tests and trials come upon us when we are actually serving God with our all. Think of Job and the great test God allowed in his life at Satan’s hand. A deep study of that book will reveal that troubles in our lives are not always the result of our disobedience. No, God can place us in the fire for any purpose, but it will always be for our best and His glory.
What does it mean to rejoice in the Lord? The sphere in which the believer’s joy exists is in the Lord. It is unrelated to the circumstances of life. Instead, it is related to the unassailable, unchanging relationship to our Sovereign Lord. The more we “operate” within that sphere the more manifest our joy will be regardless of our circumstances. After my car accident yesterday I have had many “dark” periods of gloom and worry, but they were short and had no power over me. I have been rejoicing all day as this has hit home. I listened to R.C. Sproul reading a children’s story today via Podcast. It was titled The Prince’s Poison Cup. This simple story presents the gospel in such a way that a child can understand it. I wept continually as he read about man’s rebellion against God and how the beloved Son came and died so that God’s people would be redeemed and changed forever. When we reflect on things like this, it sure puts things into perspective. I was rejoicing in the Lord despite having to deal with insurance adjusters.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7 ESV)
Under what circumstances is it okay to not rejoice? The Greek word translated here as ‘always’ is πάντοτε or pantote. The emphasis here is that Christians are called by God to rejoice in the difficult times as well as when things go well. This joy is not happiness focused on circumstances, but a deep contentment that is rooted in the Lord Himself. This is why it is so vital for Christians to come to grips with God’s Sovereignty. The more we are submitted to God and the Lordship of Christ, fully dependent upon Him for our all then the more “real” His omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, holiness, righteousness, justice, mercy, and grace become to our hearts. This will remove our infatuation with the things of this world because we are so in love with Him. When our circumstances take a turn towards tests and trials we turn to prayers and supplication with thanksgiving. This will line up our will with His and no then no matter what our test or trial consists of, we will have joy and peace of God, which surpasses all understanding. This peace and joy guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Nehemiah exhorted the Jews of His day by telling them that the joy of the Lord was their strength (Nehemiah 8:10). He was right. Instead of becoming anxious about the health of the Stock Market or what terrorists are planning or even what the liberal government of Barak Obama is going to do, let us rejoice in the Lord always!
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. (Philippians 4:8-10 ESV)
My brethren, Paul gives us here some very practical counsel. Last night after I posted that article about my car accident, I found myself watching an NHL Hockey game between the Flyers and the Islanders. I like hockey, but I don’t care too much for some of the things that go on around it. After it was over I got busy working on my Mac and didn’t really notice what was on after the game. I kept hearing some very ugly jokes and ribald humor and raucous laughter coming from the TV. I walked over to see what it was. It was some sort of sports humor show that was trying hard to be funny, but could only be stupid and gross. I turned it off. We are called here to think about godly things, to fill our minds with these things rather than the flesh bound ugliness of this world. Our flesh loves that sort of thing, but we are in the process of denying our flesh and walking in repentance before our Lord. How can we do that if we are continually becoming mired in the pig sty that is this world system.
God’s plan for His people is that they become full of knowledge of Him. Knowledge of God is good! That is why we should learn right doctrine. People can have loads of knowledge, but still not be wise. Just look at how well educated many apostates are. People can have knowledge, but lack wisdom. However, there is no wisdom without knowledge. The mind of Christ is the having the knowledge of God in us plus the wisdom of the Holy Spirit leading us into the truth in our walk. When we learn to walk this way we will be those who practice what we learn from God and we will indeed rejoice in the Lord always.
Soli Deo Gloria!