Philippians 4:4–13

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

To rejoice in the Lord always is not the same as to say rejoice in the Lord forever. It is easy to see how the saints who have gone before us and are at rest have begun an eternal rejoicing. They behold the Lamb who was slain for their salvation and join with the vast ranks of angels in singing His praises. They rejoice eternally. And it is true that we too will join them in the choir immortal, and it is also true that the joy that is now theirs and will be fully known to all believers on the last day is already ours. But what is most significant about Paul’s words “Rejoice in the Lord always” is not the duration of our rejoicing, but the circumstances in which we find ourselves rejoicing. “Rejoice in the Lord always” means rejoice in the Lord in all circumstances.

Therefore let your eternal rejoicing begin even now. But let us not overlook those three little words: in the Lord. In all things we have reason to rejoice in Him who has saved us. Rejoice! Rejoice not that you are the greatest, or that everything is going your way today, but rejoice in the Lord. As we examine portions of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Paul clearly confesses that our salvation is not from us, but is in Christ alone, but we have also heard Paul urge us on to strive to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel. Paul is teaching us to live in the Lord. We do not have life in ourselves any more than we have righteousness in ourselves. We are sinners and the wages of sin is death. But in Christ we have a righteousness not from ourselves that comes from the law but from Him who becoming obedient unto death in our place and was raised by the Father to be exalted above all.

Because our righteousness does not come from ourselves but from Christ, our joy is constant in all things. That is not to say that we do not know sorrow, but rather that since our righteousness does not come from us but from Christ, then nothing that happens to us can take our righteousness away. With an eternal righteousness from Christ, we also have a life that death cannot end, riches that moth and rust cannot destroy and no thief can steal. Therefore our joy is not only eternal, but constant. Nothing can rob us of the joy of knowing that Christ has died and now lives for us.

We know suffering, we know sorrow. Death still robs us of those so dear to us, and we must part for a time. But no mistreatment, no sorrow, no illness, no depressing news on the front page of the paper can take our joy. In the midst of sorrow, we rejoice, confident that Christ has prepared for us an eternal glory far outweighing the very real suffering we face in this fallen world. When we experience such suffering, we rejoice that this is not the way it will always be, for there is one who will right the wrongs, who will put aside sin and who will swallow up even death forever. Our joy will never end, but it will not always be in the midst of sorrow.

Paul goes on:  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;

Reasonableness is a weighty term. By it Paul means a willingness to suffer and endure beyond what is deserved. It is patience in the face of affliction, temperance in the face of injustice. It is the response of love that is long suffering, not keeping a record of wrongs, but always enduring, always hoping not for the self, but for the neighbor. It is displayed in God’s patience with his wayward people, for He is slow to anger and does not bring punishment without warning and calls to repent. And so also, Paul says, you should live in reasonableness. Let everyone see your reasonableness, your patience in affliction, your willingness to endure before you seek justice against your enemy, your willingness to forgive even though another has cost you a great deal.

Because we are petty sinful creatures, we worry that we will be taken advantage of for our patience. Oswald Bayer addresses this fear as he recounts a compelling story about the famous Lutheran hymn writer Paul Gerhardt:

In his last will and testament Paul Gerhardt reminds his only son, still living after all his other children had died: “Do good to people, even if they cannot pay you back because….” The reader expects that the sentence will continue with: “God will repay you.” However, Paul Gerhardt frustrates that expectation by continuing: “…because for what human beings cannot repay, the Creator of heaven and earth has already repaid long ago when he created you, when he gave you his only Son, and when he accepted and received you in holy baptism as his child and heir.” (“Justification as Basis and Boundary for Theology,” Lutheran Quarterly 15 [Autumn 2001]: 276.)

There is no need for us to worry in any circumstance, because God has already proved His eternal love and care for us.

Again, let us not be so quick to read the Scripture to find instructions concerning what we are to do that we skip over the other words. The Lord is at hand. Do not take those words lightly. The creator and redeemer of the world is near unto you. That is both admonition and promise. The Lord who has been patient with you will know if you are impatient with your brother. If you who have been forgiven ten thousand talents will not forgive your neighbor a hundred denarii, be prepared to be cast into prison until you have paid your debt. But also know that the Lord is near to invite you to come to find rest in Him. Everything we do should be with one eye toward our neighbor and one eye toward the Last Day in the sure confidence that Christ has triumphed over sin, death, and the devil.

Do not hoard for yourself what your brother needs today. For Christ could come again before you have need of it, and what good would it do for you then? And if you have need of it before Christ comes in glory, He is more than capable of providing it then. But we forget that the Lord is at hand. We do not live as though Christ, who multiplied the loaves and fishes in the wilderness, were with us to provide for us, nor do we act as though He were soon to take us to paradise. And losing sight of His presence and nearness, we let our joy slip away to be replaced by its opposite, which is not sorrow, but worry.

The worried soul cannot rejoice. Joy requires confidence. It is the certainty of our future that gives us joy even in the midst of sorrow. But when we forget about the certainty of the future, we worry. Because the Lord is at hand, St. Paul tells us:

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Worry is a First Commandment issue. Who is your god? Is your god able to deliver you from trouble? If your god is your checking account, then you will worry that an expense will come for which you cannot pay. If your god is power, then you will hold on to power and tyrannize those around you, but you will always fear one stronger than you who will come and take what is yours.  Where do you turn in the day of trouble? Who provides for your daily needs? I challenge you to go home and read Martin Luther’s explanation of the First Commandment in the Large Catechism and then come back and reread Philippians not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

You can see in this passage how skillfully Luther hits the nail on the head.

A god is that in which you look for security in every time of trouble and to whom you turn for every good thing that you need. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Here we are both to ask God for what we need and thank Him for what He has provided, and when our hearts and minds are opened to perceive that He truly hears and answers us just as He has promised, then anxiety and worry fade away.

Then:  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Peace and joy are companions that are rarely found apart from one another. Both are present when we are confident that the Lord who is near will provide for us now and in eternity. Even though we do not understand how.

But we are frail. Our idols do not die easily. Our many false gods tempt us to look to them. Money, power, fame, reputation, pleasure, friendship, health, these things tempt us to look away from the true God revealed in Jesus Christ, and then enters doubt. With doubt comes worry. Our patience, our reasonableness, crumbles, and peace and joy are lost.

We must note that anxiety can be either sin or the result of sin.  God did not make us to be anxious. Sometimes our anxiety is directly related to a lack of trust in Jesus. This is idolatry. But at other times our anxiety is the result of imperfect minds and hearts. It is like asthma of the soul. We trust in God and know that He is in control and works good for us, but we cannot stop ourselves from worrying. We should look down on the one suffering this anxiety no more than we look down on the one who suffers from cancer. For whether an illness is considered mental or physical, it is a result of being a corrupted creature. There is nothing wrong with seeking medical treatment; in fact, it is good to pursue health with the help of those whose vocation it is to be God’s hands of healing. Yet in the midst of any illness we must beware that the devil will try to use the opportunity to have us doubt God’s goodness and lead us to let go of the joy and peace Christ would have for us. So how do we keep from losing our joy and peace? I believe that is what Paul is addressing when he writes:

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 is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy, but our Lord Jesus Christ and His Word? Therefore when worry and anxiety afflict you, do not look inward to yourself how you might overcome these things, but be immersed in God’s Word. Meditate on God’s promises. For it is there that you will find joy and peace because it is there that Christ places Himself for your good. Just as He was laid in the swaddling clothes and placed in a manger, so also He humbles himself to be found wrapped in the pages of Scripture and placed into your ears.

Where we have doubts, Christ gives certainty. We live in an age that questions any claim to truth, but in Christ we have One who is Truth. We have one who suffers dishonor in the most honorable fashion and endures injustice in order that he might justify the unjust. Our thoughts are tainted, but He is pure. We are overwhelmed by the ugliness of this world, but though Christ had no form or majesty that we should look at Him (Is 53:2), He reveals to us the true beauty of God’s eternal love. He is commended and given the name that is above all names. He excels fulfilling the law in place of us doubters. He is praised by the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Practice these things. Realize that Paul does not say, “Finish these things.” There is no completion in learning how to let go of worry. There will not come a time in this fallen world when we will not be tempted and become anxious. We will never drown the Old Adam so thoroughly that he doesn’t lead us to doubt or worry. Our peace and joy are attacked daily, by the devil, the world, and our sinful nature who want to draw us away from Christ.

But Christ does not change. Christ who has paid for your sins and washed you in the waters of holy Baptism has you secure in His hands. You were bought at a price and he will not let you go. As you are practicing the art of living in God’s promises, know that the Lord is at hand to pardon what is yours and bestow what is His. His life is counted as yours, so also His future will be yours. Therefore rejoice in the Lord always and forever. Again I say rejoice!

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

This message from Pastor Gene Veith is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas.  For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]  A Pass it On Project ,  You can read more at  [email protected]