Summary: Rejoicing in the Lord is a choice we must make, not a feeling. Our joy must be in the Lord, not in our circumstances. This sermon gives three actions we must make to keep making the choice to rejoice.
Philippians 4:4 is one of the simplest verses in the Bible to understand, but it is one of the hardest to practice. It makes for great preaching and difficult practicing.
To “rejoice in the Lord always ” does not mean we should never feel depressed or sad. Jesus felt sadness at the grave of Lazarus when in John 11:35 it says, “Jesus wept.” Jesus was not feeling joyful when he went to the Cross. In Romans 12:15, we are commanded to weep with those that weep. So we know it is not wrong to weep or feel sorrow. One would have to put their head in the sand to never feel sad or depressed in this fallen world.
We are not commanded to “feel” joyful but to rejoice. You can’t command a feeling, only an action. Some people by nature have a cheerful disposition, but Paul is not talking about a feeling here. He is talking about making a choice to rejoice even when you don’t feel like it.
We often make a choice to do something we don’t feel like doing. We get up and go to work. We pay our bills. We go to the gym and work out (or at least we should). The same is true with rejoicing in the Lord. We cannot allow our feelings to dictate whether or not we will rejoice in the Lord.
Did you know there are records of martyrs who were singing praises to God while they were being burned at the stake or about to be fed to wild animals? Did they feel like singing then? No, it was a choice.
To rejoice in the Lord is to have an attitude of contentment. The choice to rejoice doesn’t mean you go around with a plastic smile on and that you are singing all the time. It means you choose to be content with your circumstances. You believe God is sovereign and your life is in His hand and that not one of your hairs falls to the ground without His knowledge.
Paul is simply saying in verse 4 that we are to find our joy in God, in Christ, in the Holy Spirit. We are not to look to money to bring us joy, or health, or friends, or business, or the weather. We are to look only to Jesus for our joy. The Lord is the only sure, reliable, unwavering, unchanging source of joy!
Paul says in verses 11-13 that he had learned to be content. “11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
If we are going to daily make the choice to rejoice, we must do these things:
First, we need to resolve conflicts. In verses 2, 3, Paul exhorts Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mind or to “agree in the Lord.” Then he asks also this true companion (who he is referring to we don’t know) to help them work out their differences.
So far, Paul’s appeals for unity have been general, but here he calls out specific people. Can you imagine these two ladies sitting in the congregation, listening attentively to the letter being read to the church corporately, when all of a sudden—“I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to agree in the Lord.” Talk about an awkward moment! Paul expresses a clear rebuke to these ladies.
Notably, these two women are not carnal people known for their bad tempers and wagging tongues. Verse 3 says they are women who have worked with Paul in the cause of the gospel. They have been at the forefront of evangelism. These are not backseat busybodies. They simply cannot get along.
I find it interesting that Paul doesn’t give us very many details. We can’t tell what the problem is, and nothing he says lets us know who was right and who was wrong. Instead of taking sides, he simply exhorts these two Christian women to settle their differences. That’s something we should remember, because in most disputes, there is a little fault on both sides.
We have people from all walks of life in our church. Young and old. Educated and uneducated. Wealthy and impoverished. From the North and from the South. Some have different political views. We are going to disagree, and yet we are to be in harmony. We are to be likeminded.
God wants us to learn to resolve conflicts. Some people just want to run away from conflict. That is why many people church hop. As soon as they encounter conflict, they leave and join another church. Learning to resolve conflict is one way Christ makes us more like Him. The devil works through strife. He tries to divide us. He tries to get us at odds with each other, because he knows the power of unity.