Thursday, June 16, 2011
Paul has been going through doctrine of the Christian life, and then he comes to this practical exhortation: “Rejoice in the Lord.” He’s preparing to conclude his letter with a final exhortation to these hard-pressed, impoverished, persecuted Philippian Christians. Now what would you say to a group of Christians who are hard-pressed, impoverished, persecuted? Here’s what the Apostle Paul says to them: “Rejoice!” But that’s not all he says, is it? He says, “Rejoice in the Lord.” Paul is calling the Philippians, and us, to the delightful duty of joy in the Christian life.
Paul is not calling us to fake joy, where we smile our plastic smiles and pretend like our lives are not falling apart. He is not saying ‘Rejoice, because your trials aren’t real.’
There are a lot of people who want to give you the message “Rejoice,” by doing one of two things. Either they want you to pretend like your problems aren’t there, or they want you to rejoice because your problems aren’t that big.God never asks us to have that kind of unrealistic joy, because He knows personally what this world is like and He doesn’t want His people to have a fake joy that is based upon pretending their problems aren’t there.
I’m so glad that Paul is not looking out at this congregation of Philippians and saying, ‘Be happy! Nothing’s wrong. Rejoice! Everything’s fine.’ Instead, Paul is saying, ‘As real as your problems are, as deep as your heartbreaks are, as justified as your fears are, rejoice in the Lord because you are the recipient of a bigger truth than the truth of your problems, and you are the recipients of promises that are greater than the sum total of all your fears and heartaches.’ His message is “Rejoice in the Lord.”
Jesus and Paul just do this continually. They do not ask believers to have comfort in this world because things are hunky-dory, fine and dandy. They ask us to rejoice because there is bigger truth in God’s promises to us in the gospel than there are in the sufferings and sorrows and anxieties of this world.
Paul is telling you how you go about fighting for joy in the Christian life, you just don’t fall over on your sofa and have joy. It’s a fight for joy in the Christian life. Paul wants to give them weapons to fight for joy, so that when those losses and crosses and real anxieties and sorrows and trials come into their lives they can fight against them, not by saying ‘Oh, they’re not so bad,’ or, ‘Oh, that’s not happening to me. I won’t think about it,’ or by singing “Que sera, sera” and thinking about it tomorrow like Scarlett O’Hara.
Instead, you stack all your troubles up right at the foot of the cross, and you see a bigger truth that is a cause for joy than the greatest of your problems are cause for discouragement. It is not joy through denial, it is a joy through a greater truth, and that’s going to be Paul’s argument in this whole section. He wants us to behold that big truth and not just see it with our eyes, but believe it with our hearts, otherwise we are unarmed in this fight for joy.
In the rest of the passage, Paul will warn them of teachers that are going to come to the Philippians and tell them, to gain joy by confidence in their own works or by becoming a better person. And Paul is saying, ‘If you fight for joy that way, let me tell you what’s going to happen: You’re going to have no joy; put no confidence in the flesh! Only the shoulders of Jesus Christ and His free justification can hold you up under the burdens of this world filled with sin and misery.
If you are looking for joy by putting your confidence in yourself, not only will you not find it, but on the Judgment Day, you’re going to be in the line of people who are lining up to tell God that Jesus didn’t need to die for you, that you can handle this on your own.
But perhaps you are trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation and you’re not putting confidence in the flesh for your salvation, but you have not yet experienced and expressed in your life the joy that Paul knows, Jesus shed His blood for you to experience joy here just as much as He did shed His blood that your sins would be forgiven. What did the Lord Jesus say to His disciples? “I came so that your joy would be complete.” And Paul is saying to the Philippians that he’s not going to let off of pursuing them until by God’s grace they are experiencing in some measure that joy.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 10:54 AM