After giving the Philippian Christians a pep talk about pressing on for the Lord, standing firm in the Lord, and having good relationships with other Christians, Paul now lightens up a bit. In verses 4-9, he gives several small but important instructions for us to follow. They are: rejoice in the Lord (4), be gracious (5), pray to God (6-7), meditate on good things (8), and follow good examples (9). We will look at two of these this morning.
- Rejoice in the Lord (4).
People are looking for reasons to be happy. Buying a car, getting a promotion at work, going on a vacation, and many other things often make us happy for a time. But these periods of happiness don’t seem to last. When the happy event is over, we wonder how to get it back. When Paul tells us to always rejoice in the Lord, it is not the same as telling us to be happy all the time. It is something more substantial.
What does it mean to rejoice?
Paul uses the Greek word Χαίρετε to make this statement. It means to “rejoice, be glad.”1 It is something that should become “a continual and habitual action.”2 But even this definition is not quite good enough. I think that biblical joy is a deep-seated emotion of gladness which comes from knowing God and from considering what He has done for us.
One commentator states that “joy is something we cannot produce ourselves; it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.”4 While joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit, we are still commanded to do it. If we have no way of gaining this joy, why then are we commanded to be joyful? Perhaps it is best to understand that we work in tandem with the Holy Spirit. He does produce joy in our hearts as we submit to Him, but we must consciously make the choice to remain joyful.
What should we rejoice about?
I recently heard about the unexpected death of a young woman in a nearby town. When things like this happen, how can we find anything to rejoice about? It would seem disingenuous to be joyful or happy after such an occurrence. We are not called to sing and smile nonstop. Doing so after a tragedy would be very odd. But during those times, we are given the opportunity to find joy in something outside of our circumstances.
During our Wednesday evening prayer meetings, we have been studying the life of Job. Think for a moment about what happened to him. Because of Satan’s false claims against Him, Job lost all of his wealth and his ten children on the same day. He later lost his health. Even so, he was still able to bless the name of the Lord after these tragedies occurred. Consider two passages from the Book of Job.
Job 1:21 – “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Job 2:9-10 – “Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!’ But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”
So where did Job’s joy come from? Did he enjoy the pain and loss? Of course not. And yet he was still able to have a calm, abiding joy during his troubles. Where does joy come from during tragedies? I believe Paul tells us the answer. He tells us to rejoice in the Lord. He is the only one who can give us joy all the time. I would like to share two ideas about finding joy in the Lord.
First, there is joy in knowing who God is. This seems to be the key to everything. God is often understood as some implacable deity who is sending people to Hell as quickly as possible. However, those who know Him best know that He is good, loving, compassionate, caring, merciful, gracious, and much more. When you read through the Bible, do you notice how people interacted with God? Enoch walked with God. He knew Him well and enjoyed the relationship. Abraham was the friend of God and willingly left his home in Ur to move to the Promised Land. Why did he do this? He did it because he knew the character of God and loved Him. David was a man after God’s own heart and wrote many psalms praising God. He even said that he would like to remain in God’s house all the time because He loved God so much. The point is that when you know God, you will marvel at His character. And those who know Him find joy in knowing who He is.
Second, there is joy in experiencing a relationship with God. It is one thing to know about God from reading the Bible. It is altogether something different to actually experience a relationship with Him. When I was younger, I knew about the Lord. I knew Bible verses by heart and could quote them, but I didn’t know Him. When God opened my eyes, it all changed. I began to read the Bible and see God on every page. I saw how He loved me, answered my prayers, comforted me, directed me, and much more. It has now been over thirty years and I have learned to trust the Lord completely.
Do you know the Lord like this? When you know who God is and have experienced a relationship with Him through faith in Jesus, you will always have something to be joyful about. You know God! He is good! He has saved you from Hell! He has changed your life! He has a home in heaven prepared for you! No matter what happens today, you can find joy in knowing the Lord and trusting Him each moment of your life.
Why do we have to be reminded to rejoice?
Did you notice that Paul repeats the statement in verses four. He tells us twice that we should rejoice in the Lord. “Sometimes the trials and pressures of life make it almost impossible to be happy. But Paul did not tell his readers to be happy. He encouraged them to rejoice in the Lord. In fact, he said it twice in verse 4. … Surely there are many circumstances in which Christians cannot be happy. But they can always rejoice in the Lord and delight in Him.”3 Always and in all circumstances, find your joy in God Himself.
- Be gracious (5).
The second statement we will cover today is about being gracious. When my chickens and ducks are together, they are mostly peaceful. But occasionally, a chicken will decide to peck a duck’s tail feathers out. Or an older duck will attach the younger ducks. If you were to follow me out each day, you would hear me saying, “Be nice!” The same thing can be said to Christians today. We need to be nice to other people whenever possible.
What does moderation/gentleness mean?
Paul used the Greek words τὸ ἐπιεικὲς ὑμῶν to make this statement. It means “reasonableness in judging. The word signifies a humble, patient [steadfastness], which is able to submit to injustice, disgrace, and maltreatment without hatred and malice, trusting in God in spite of all of it.”2 We might also use the word gracious. When dealing with other people, we should be kind, selfless, and willing to yield our personal feelings when we are dealing with others. If you are gracious toward others, they will notice that despite any differences of opinion.
We should note that this isn’t a command to give in to everything anyone ever says. That would lead to a lot of trouble. The company I work for provides transportation for railroad crews. When someone complains to one of our drivers about a perceived problem, I instruct them to talk slowly and kindly to the passenger. “Sir, I understand your concern and it will be addressed as soon as possible. In the meantime, I would appreciate your patience. I’ll do my best to get this taken care of as quickly as possible.”
I recall an issue one passenger had with one of our vans. He was loading his luggage into the back of a van when he noticed a full-size wheel in the back of the van. He was concerned that during an accident the wheel could hit him in the head. A manager was nearby and addressed the situation. “Alright, I’ll take care of this. Sir, please take your seat in the vehicle. And, driver, don’t get into any accidents.” His quick and gracious response took the heat out of the situation and allowed the trip to be completed. I have admired him for that ever since.
When Christians are gracious toward others, it is not a sign of weakness but of consideration toward the other person. With the right mindset it is possible to be “firm as a rock in respect of moral principle”6 but still gracious toward the other person.
Why should we be known for this?
Read the verse again. One reason for being gracious is that “all men” are watching. “Joy, an inner quality in relation to circumstances, may not always be seen; but the way one reacts to others—will be noticed.”3 People are influenced by the way that we interact with others. Are we joyful people who show the characteristics of the Lord in our daily conversations? Are we gracious or contentious? I think about this often as I am driving. Is my reaction to other drivers a good example of the character God is seeking to produce in my life? Am I gracious or overbearing? The same thing can be true about our differences with other Christians. The way we handle those differences will be seen by both Christians and those who have not yet believed. So we must be especially gracious because of the way our actions affect others.
What does the Lord being near have to do with our graciousness?
The last part of the verse almost seems out of place. Paul tells us that “the Lord is at hand.” There are two ways to understand this phrase. “The word could imply ‘near in space’ or ‘near in time.'”2
In the first idea, Paul could be telling us to be gracious because the Lord is nearby watching how we respond. This is a good point. If the Lord is nearby, would you be ashamed to react that way? My “Jesus Saves” ballcap often makes me consider my actions in the same way. How I respond will affect the way that message is received. The same is true if I am consciously remembering that Jesus is with me every moment of the day. He is there to observe but also to help in those tricky relationships with others.
In the second idea, Paul could be telling us to be patient because Jesus will return soon. “The idea seems to be: since Christ’s coming is near, when all the promises made to God’s people will become realities, believers, in spite of being persecuted, can certainly afford to be mild and charitable in their relation to others.”5 In other words, be patient and gracious because this circumstance is temporary. The Lord will return soon and our troubles will be over. That can be both comforting and convicting. It is comforting to know that it won’t last forever. But it is convicting because every Christian will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ to answer for his work for the Lord. Have I been gracious in my dealings with people? Gracious like the Lord has been with me? It makes you think, doesn’t it?
What God inspired Paul to write is important. It is more of an attitude than an action. So let’s ask ourselves two questions. First, have I been having a good attitude during the ups and downs of life? God wants us to develop a joy in knowing Him and trusting Him. His goodness to us should fill us with joy that no circumstances can take away. Second, have I been a gracious person to others? God wants each of us to be kind and considerate toward others. As we develop this characteristic, we will become more like the Lord and will be a good example to those who are influenced by our attitudes.
1 Bauer 873-74.
2 Rienecker 560.
3 Lightner 663.
4 McGee 320.
5 Hendriksen 194.
6 Moule 111.
Bauer, Walter, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, trans by William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, Frederick W. Danker, etc., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.
Hendriksen, William, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994, pp.192-94.
Lightner, Robert P., “Philippians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983, p. 663.
McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. V, 1 Corinthians through Revelation, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983, p. 320-22.
Moule, H. C. G., The Epistle to the Philippians, Cambridge: The University Press, 1889, pp.111-12.
Rienecker, Fritz, and Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980.