Summary: Joy in the Lord and gentleness in dealing with others affect our quality of life. When we are thinking right about God and our relationship with Him, joy and gentleness naturally flows.
In Philippians 4:1 we are given the directive to “stand fast in the Lord.” i That is followed by a series of exhortations that tell us how to do that.
The exhortation in verses 2-3 is about maintaining unity in the congregation. That is not always easy to do, is it? That’s why Ephesians 4 tells us to “endeavor” to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We have to work at it. We have to recognize the necessity of it, and as the NIV says, we are to “make every effort” to preserve that unity.
The problem we encounter is that we rub one another the wrong way at times. Someone says something that hurts our feelings. People take advantage of us. People may not appreciate the hard work we we do. Lots of things can happen that make us want to withdraw from community and try to serve the Lord without those relationships. When conflicts arise we may be tempted to try living out our faith apart from church people.
But that is a mistake. It will not work in the long run. Why? we are not designed to go it alone. God has designed interdependence in the Body of Christ. We are not only to walk with God, but we are to walk with one another in love as well.ii The lone ranger mentality is not biblical. God did not equip us to be lone rangers. We need one another by divine design.
Last week we illustrated that reality with the root system that sustains the giant Redwoods. The root of a Redwood tree only goes down ten or twelve feet. That could not support a 350 trunk. What supports the tree is its interconnection with the other Redwoods. Its roots extend laterally 60-80 feet connecting it with the other tress. That’s why the storms don’t blow them down.
In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul used the metaphor of the human body to teach this interdependence. The human body is designed with many members that are dependent on one another. “The eye cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you.’” I need you, and you need me. Our diversity is our strength when we stay in unity and serve one another. A hand cannot survive without the functions of the other parts of the body. That interdependence cannot be ignored.
Nature teaches us this principle of interdependence in the animal kingdom. The antelope or wildebeest that gets separated from the herd is the most vulnerable. Lions devour the one that gets separated from the safety of the herd. So, for our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of our fellow believers we must follow Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 4:2-3. We can only “stand fast in the Lord” as we support each other and work together.
In our text today we will consider two additional instructions for standing strong in the Lord. Philippians 4:4 tells us to maintain a joyful heart before the Lord. Verse 5 tells us to maintain gentleness in our relationships with others.iii These are imperatives, two commands that we are to live by. We can view them as duties. But it is better to see them as avenues for abundant living.
Our lives are enriched as we practice these disciplines. After instructing the disciples in John 13 Jesus said to them, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” The blessing is in the doing. We are blessed as we cultivate joy in our relationship with the Lord and gentleness in our relationships with others. Through these disciplines we will grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.iv We will be strengthened in our walk with God and our influence toward others.
I. First look with me at the directive in 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!”
Joy is a consistent theme in this letter. In 1:4 Paul talks about the joy he experiences when he prays for and thinks about these converts in Philippi. In 1:18 he talks about rejoicing in the fact that the gospel is being preached, even when some of the preachers are doing it out of selfish motives. In 1:25 he expressed joy in the opportunity to continue ministering to the Christians at Philippi. In chapter 2 he addresses his joy in their unity (2:2) and their faithful witness at Philippi (2:16). The first thing he says in chapter 3 is to “Rejoice in the Lord.” Now in our text he says it again: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!”
Why does he say it twice in our text? He does not want them to miss it. It is too important. The nurturing of joy and gladness in our hearts is essential to our spiritual health. In 2:14 he has written: “Do all things without complaining and disputing.” Disputing with one another will undermine our progress. We addressed that in our discussion of 4:2-3. So will complaining. So will ingratitude. Look what happened to the Children of Israel in the wilderness. Their murmuring and complaining brought all kinds of judgment on them.v That attitude of heart was a major factor in their failure to enter into the Promise Land. If we’re not rejoicing, we are likely to start complaining.