Summary: Choosing to rejoice in the Lord leads to a gentle spirit, and to four virtues of a spiritual life.
Dr. Steve Mathews
United Baptist Church
December 13, 2015
I. Joy is a choice- vs. 4
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
• Rejoicing in the Lord is a choice. Paul expects that his audience can do this. He repeats his injunction to joy twice.
• Joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness is based on something external to ourselves. We are happy when we get what we want.
• Joy is based on who God is and what God is doing. This is why Paul tells his readers to rejoice “in the Lord”.
• Happiness is an emotion. Joy is a decision.
• We can have joy even in times of sorrow, suffering, and loneliness. Whether we are happy or not, we can have joy.
• Paul was in prison when he wrote this epistle. He did not merely spout platitudes about being joyful in hard times. He was no armchair apostle.
As parents, one of things we teach our children is that their behavior does not depend on their emotions. They cannot hit or bite because they are angry, they cannot steal a toy they want, etc. Many Christians need to learn the same thing: rejoicing is not an emotion, it is an action. It is not based in how our lives are going, but in who God is.
II. Joy leads to gentleness- vs. 5
5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.
How does gentleness follow from joy? I think it happens something like this:
• A Christian chooses joy in the Lord, regardless of his or her personal happiness at the moment.
• A spirit of joy puts life into perspective. Joy “in the Lord” and because “the Lord is at hand” helps to keep God first in the Christian’s life.
• Choosing a spirit of joy helps the Christian to love God and love his or her neighbor.
• Gentleness arises from loving God and others. If I love God and neighbor as I should, then I can treat others with gentleness. I don’t have to be right. I don’t try to get anything from you. I don’t see you as a means to an end, but as a brother or sister.
• Because “the Lord is at hand”, life takes on a sense of urgency.
• It matters how I treat you because God is intimately involved in human activity.
William “Refrigerator” Perry was one of the great defensive linemen of the 1980’s. He played for the Chicago Bears, and was one of the first players over 300 pounds in the NFL. He was a giant of a man, but capable of great speed and athleticism. In an interview, he sat and played with a kitten while he talked to the interviewer. His hand engulfed the kitten (the average man wears a size 10 ring. His Super Bowl ring is the largest ever made- size 25), and he could have crushed it. Instead, he caressed and stroked it, enjoying the company of his little pet. This is a great illustration of gentleness. Gentleness is not weakness, but strength held back. We must be gentle with one another, not because we are weak, but because we are strong enough in Christ to give them freedom.
III. Prayer, gratitude, and peace arise from a life of joy- vs. 6-7
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Gentleness and joy give rise to certain virtues in the Christian life. Paul outlines four of them here:
1. Contentment- be anxious for nothing- The Christian who chooses joy and treats others with gentleness does not have to give in to worry and anxiety because of an overwhelming sense that “the Lord is at hand.” God’s got me, so I don’t have to worry.
2. Prayer and supplication- because the Lord is at hand, I can come to Him with my requests and needs. I can “let my requests be known to God”. Notice that Paul expresses this in a passive voice- we must let our requests be known. God knows what we need, so it is enough for us to simply let them be known. God’s part is to respond to our needs in His grace and wisdom. Our part is to trust not only in His power, but in His goodness.
3. Thanksgiving- Paul adds thanksgiving as a parenthetical note as he discusses prayer and supplication. Thanksgiving goes hand-in-hand with trusting God to meet our needs. Even as we let our requests be known to God, we thank Him for meeting those needs as He sees fit.