By Mike Willis
The book of Philippians has been described as Paul’s most affectionate epistle. Writing to a church which he had established, Paul was personally acquainted with many of Philippi’s members. He showed the Philippians how to live with good spiritual attitudes in the face of bleak circumstances.
Philippians 4 contains several exhortations which give us direction in how to survive life, enduring trials and afflictions and enjoying its brightest moments to the fullest. When teaching on this chapter, I refer to these Scriptures as providing a prescription for good spiritual health. Whether my title is a fair assessment of the chapter or not, the lessons taken from these verses deserve our prayerful study. Consider some of these directives with me.
I. Rejoice in the Lord
In Philippians 4:4, Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.” This statement provides a key to good living.
1. A Christian should rejoice. There is no virtue in a crabby disposition. Some people have such a sour look on their face that one would think they had been sucking on a lemon. Unfortunately, some equate that disposition with Christianity because some misguided Christians think that abstaining from the world means that a Christian cannot enjoy life.
There is no sin committed in being happy, light-hearted, and jovial. A Christian without a sense of humor, who is always negative about everything, helps create a negative impression of Christianity. Christians are to “adorn the gospel” (Tit. 2:10). Not only must I teach my children what one must believe and obey in order to be a Christian, I must also live that life in such an attractive way that they too will want to be a Christian. That is less likely to occur when the gospel is hidden underneath a crabby disposition.
2. A Christian’s joy is “in the Lord.” How can a person be happy when life is so bad for him? The answer is this: “he rejoices in the Lord.” Notice Paul’s circumstance when he wrote this epistle. He was in a Roman prison, hoping to be released. Nevertheless, death at the hand of a Roman soldier lay as a distinct possibility. There was nothing about his physical circumstance which should cause him joy. One of the keys to happiness, then, is finding our joy in the Lord.
Much unhappiness is the result of having one’s goals and aspirations confined to this world. A man who aspires to being rich cannot be happy when he loses his money; a person who aspires to climbing the corporate ladder is disappointed when someone else is given the big promotion; the man who is trying to become rich by investing in stocks is crushed when the stock market crashes. Outward circumstance controls the mental state of those whose goals and aspirations in life are tied to this world alone.
Billy Graham was correct when he spoke about happiness not being tied to physical circumstance.
The happiness which brings enduring worth to life is not the superficial happiness that is dependent on circumstances. It is the happiness and contentment that fills the soul even in the midst of the most distressing of circumstances and the most bitter environment. It is the kind of happiness that grins when things go wrong and smiles through the tears. The happiness for which our souls ache is one undisturbed by success or failure, one which will root deeply inside us and give inward relaxation, peace, and contentment, no matter what the surface problems may be. That kind of happiness stands in need of no outward stimulus.
Paul expressed his joy in the midst of trials saying that he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10).
There always are occasions for rejoicing in the Lord. There is joy in what Christ has done for us. We can rejoice in his incarnation, atonement, resurrection, ascension to and rule at the right hand of God, revelation of God to us, etc.
In the Lord, there are occasions to rejoice in the good news of someone being baptized or restored (even as the angels of heaven rejoice, Lk. 15:7), of someone growing and maturing in Christ (Phil. 4: 1; 1 Thess. 2:19), of one’s own salvation and fellowship with the Lord (“Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven” – Lk. 10:20), of one’s hope for eternal life, of the progress of a local church with which we are associated, etc. These joys are ever present and independent of outward circumstance.
Recognizing the true source of joy, one can see why it is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). It is cultivated and grown as one grows and matures in Christ.
Robert Rainy observed, “A great grief shuts out lesser griefs. When a woman has lost her son, will she grieve greatly for the loss of her purse? So a great joy keeps down the excess of lesser joys. A man will not be greatly concerned about winning or losing some game. He will be about equally glad either way. So he whose heart thrills with the joy of Christ will feel the pleasure and the pain of earthly things; but they will not master him, nor run away with him” (The Expositor’s Bible: Philippians 325).
I have attended churches which showed little or no celebration of joy when a person was baptized or a Christian was restored. Is the reason for such absence of celebration that their hearts are tied to other things than the things of the Lord? I wondered if that were so.
There are many unhappy Christians in every church. Much of that unhappiness may be tied to finding the source of our joy in something other than Christ and then being frustrated when that in which we hope does not come to pass. Is the absence of our joy a reflection of our too close attachment to the world?
3. Rejoice in the Lord always. The Christian’s joy in the Lord is abiding, not transitory and fleeting. The joy can be abiding because (a) there is no change in the Lord, the Source of our joy; (b) our relationship to him is not effected by outward circumstances (Rom. 8:31-39). Too often our joy is short-lived, tied to emotional ups and downs rather than being firmly rooted in our relationship to Christ.
R. Finlayson wrote in the Pulpit Commentary:
Ours, then, should be a deep and a perennial joy. Even under depreciation of earthly comfort, there should be more gladness in our heart than men of the world have in the time that their corn and their wine and their oil abound. God, in Christ, is more to us than corn, or wine, or oil; ay, more than the dearest earthly friend, and One who will never fail us; and therefore we may always rejoice (Philippians 176).
Habakkuk expressed it like this: “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the nock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab 3:17-18).
Consequently, the first pill to take in the prescription for good spiritual health is to anchor your heart to the Lord so that your heart rejoices in the Lord and continues that rejoicing throughout all of life’s circumstances.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 13, pp. 386, 407
July 4, 1991