Many in the world today are unhappy. They are unhappy in their job, in their marriage, in their relationship with others. They are just unhappy. It is common for people to look for happiness in all the wrong places in material possessions, or advancement in society, or even in a bottle. Paul writes, Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! (Phil. 4:4). Interestingly enough, Paul writes these words from a Roman prison not knowing whether he would live or die. How can he say, Rejoice! under such circumstances? The key to his happiness is found in the phrase in the Lord. Because he was in the Lord, his joy was not dependent upon circumstance. The word happy comes from the word happen. Generally when good things happen to us we are happy; when bad things happen we are unhappy. But Paul could be happy and rejoice even while incarcerated because he was in the Lord. His relationship with the Lord enabled him to rejoice under the most difficult situations. It enabled him to look beyond the present suffering to the glory of the future. To the Romans he wrote, For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18). If you are not in the Lord you cannot be truly happy.
Paul s exhortation to Rejoice in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4; see also 3:1) is a curious statement coming from a prisoner that did not know whether he would live or die. But Paul speaks of the truest joy possible; joy that is found only in the Lord. Why is this so? Because God, has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3). Only in Christ do we enjoy true righteousness and the blessed hope of the resurrection from the dead (Phil. 3:9-11). But how does one get into Christ? Paul writes to the Romans that we are baptized into Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:3), and to the Galatians he writes, For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Gal. 3:27). When an individual believes in Jesus as the Son of God (John 3:16; Mark 16:16), repents of his sin (Luke 13:3) and is baptized into Christ (Acts 2:38) his past sins are forgiven. This is indeed an occasion for rejoicing (see the Ethiopian man in Acts 8:39). In Christ we can continue to find forgiveness and enjoy the eternal blessings of the righteous. (see 1 John 2:1-6). Consequently, nothing can dim our spiritual joy. For in Him we are more than conquerors and nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:37, 39). Have you been baptized into Christ?
After saying, Rejoice in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4), the apostle Paul now says, Let your gentleness be known to all men (v. 5). The word rendered gentleness is also translated forbearance or forbearing spirit and carries with it the idea of being fair and courteous in our dealings with others. Not only must the Christian s life be characterized by a spirit of joy, but a spirit of fairness must also be evident to all men. Paul describes Christ as having a meek and gentle spirit (2 Cor. 10:1). Many in the world consider this type of gentleness to be a sign of weakness, but the fact is, it exhibits a strength that typifies Christ Himself. It is this kind of forbearing, Christ-like spirit that enables one to think of others before self. It is this gentleness that enables the Christian to forego some of his own rights out of sympathy and consideration for the needs of others. This gentleness is indeed the need of the hour. So many people are concerned foremost, even exclusively, with themselves and simply do not have time to even be courteous, much less fair in their dealings with others. They are out to take care of number one, and it doesn t matter to them how others are affected by their actions. The Christian must not be this way, for such selfishness will rob him of true joy in Christ.
After exhorting the Philippians to a spirit of joy and gentleness, Paul tells them next, The Lord is at hand (Phil. 4:5). The phrase at hand is one that can be understood in two different ways. Paul may be reminding us that the Lord is near and ever present in our lives as children of God. This is a frequent teaching of Scripture (see Psa. 34:18; 119:151; Matt. 28:18-20; 2 Tim. 4:18; Heb. 13:5; 1 Pet. 3:12). But the phrase at hand can also refer to time rather than place. For instance, Peter and James both use the phrase in reference to the return of Christ and the end of the world (1 Peter 4:7; James 5:8). The fact is, Christ may return at any moment. Some believe His return is imminent, that is, very soon, but the Scriptures do not teach this. We just do not know when it shall be. Jesus says we do not know what hour your Lord is coming, but it will be at an hour when you do not expect Him (Matt. 24:42-44). In reality it matters little whether we understand Paul s statement to refer to the Lord s presence or His coming, for both ideas are truths that should impact our lives. Because the Lord is at hand we should always live our lives pleasing in His sight, ever prepared for His return. Because the Lord is at hand the faithful child of God can rejoice in the Lord always.
After telling the Philippians that the Lord is at hand, Paul then says, Be anxious in nothing (Phil. 4:6). One of the great challenges for every Christian is to keep a proper perspective of what s truly important in life. We tend to become so consumed and concerned with the affairs of our daily routine that the spiritual is quickly overshadowed by the physical. The result is an anxiety that will destroy all quality of life. Be anxious in nothing is a command not to be ignored. It is in stark contrast to the command Rejoice in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4). The fact is, nothing will destroy our joy in Christ quicker or more completely than anxiety. Does this mean that the child of God is to live his life without concern for anything pertaining to this life? Certainly not. We do have physical responsibilities that require our care and concern. Timothy cared for the Philippians (2:20) and Paul had the same concern for all the churches (2 Cor. 11:28). But we must not allow our legitimate concerns to turn into anxiety over material matters so that we lose not only a proper perspective of life, but we lose our faith. Anxiety is the result of looking to one s self rather than to God for the solution to the problems of life. We must remember, The Lord is at hand. He is ever near as our helper (cf. 1 Peter 5:7).
Paul says, Be anxious in nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God (Phil. 4:6). Clearly the antidote to our anxiety is to place all of our concerns in the hands of the Lord. As Peter expresses it, Humble yourselves under the might hand of God ... casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you (1 Peter 5:6, 7). We are to make our requests known unto God by prayer and supplication. Certainly this does not imply that God does not know what our needs are, for Jesus said, your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things even before we ask Him. So why must we ask? The preposition unto (pros) means in the presence of, or before and indicates that we are simply bringing our needs before God rather than informing Him of things He does not know. God wants us to be impressed with the fact that every good gift and every perfect gift is from above (James 1:17) and we are dependent upon Him for every blessing of life. Intrinsically connected to our prayers and supplication is our thanksgiving for all that He has done for us in times past. If we refuse to recognize the blessings He has granted in past, how can we expect Him to bless us in the future? In this way, true faith is anxious in nothing.
Paul writes, Be anxious in 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 Jesus Christ (Phil. 4:6, 7). As expressed last week, the antidote to anxiety is to place all of our concerns into the hands of the Lord. When we do this, the peace of God guards our hearts and minds. Paul speaks to Christians who have already experienced the peace that comes through the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with the God (Rom. 5:1; Eph. 2:13-16). Now he speaks of a peace that comes from a continued trust in God. Jesus said, Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid (John 14:27). This peace cannot be found at the bottom of a bottle, or in the contents of a pill, neither will you find it on Dr. Phil s television show. It is a peace that is beyond all human comprehension for it surpasses all understanding. It is a peace that comes only from our trust in God to take care of every challenge in our life. It is a peace that enables us to Rejoice in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4) even during times of duress and persecution. The question is do you have this peace?