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.
Unity is not uniformity. It is not everyone playing the same note, but it is everyone playing the same song. We all don’t have to be exactly alike but we must be working together. I love the answer of Billy Graham’s wife when she was asked by a reporter if she ever disagreed with her husband. She said it was her opinion that if two people always agreed, one of them wasn’t necessary. We are not always going to agree on everything. What unifies us? It is the Gospel. Look at verse 3 - the two women who were at odds have labored with Paul side by side in the Gospel. Paul wanted them to work out their differences so that the Gospel could continue to be advanced. Every minute we spend bickering about something is a minute we are not focusing on spreading the Gospel.
I am not saying that there are never legitimate causes for divisions. Sometimes, our conflict arises out of strong belief for doctrine. Other times, we have philosophical differences. Also, there are times when there are clear offenses that occur. Whatever the conflict, through prayer and humility, most cases can be resolved. When it cannot, a third party, as Paul suggested in the text, may step in to help bring resolution.
Notice verse 5 - Let your reasonableness be known to all men. This could also mean a gentle forbearance, unselfishness, and consideration of others. When you sit down to resolve conflict, don’t be selfish. Be gentle and kind to the other person. Try to understand their thinking as you explain your thinking. Don’t be determined to get your way. Yield your rights and come to the conclusion that you may not be right. Be like Jesus, who in Chapter 2 we saw, laid aside his rights to humble himself and come to this earth to die for us. What selflessness he displayed! We should do the same when we are working through conflicts.
Verse 5 goes on to say “The Lord is near.” There seems to be two different possible interpretations of this phrase. One is in relation to time and the other to space. Paul is either saying the Lord’s return is near (time) or the Lord is near to us in His presence (space). In either case, it should affect how we deal with conflict. The Lord is coming back, and it could be today. We need to be urgent on resolving conflicts and getting down to business - sharing the Gospel. Also, God is with us every moment of every day. He is with us to help us work out our conflicts. His nearness is an encouragement to us to live in peace with one another.
So work out any conflicts you have. They are robbing you of joy. Don’t run from them. Work them out. Come together and pray and ask God to make you both humble. And be willing to admit where you were wrong. Take out your Bibles and discuss the matter from the Scripture. Romans 12:18 admonishes us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” And Romans 14:18 says “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”
Spurgeon said this about this text, “People who are very happy, especially those who are very happy in the Lord, are not apt either to give offense or to take offense. Their minds are so sweetly occupied with higher things that they are not easily distracted by the little troubles that naturally arise among such imperfect creatures as we are. Joy in the Lord is the cure for all discord.” If we are practicing verse 4 to rejoice in the Lord always, we will find ourselves in conflict much less frequently.
Secondly, we need to Pray instead of worrying. Verse 6 says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.”
Just like unresolved conflict, worry is another huge thief of joy. You can either worship or worry, but you can’t do both. Someone has coined the phrase “Worry doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow but it empties today of its strength.” Worry will do the same thing to you mentally that sand will do to machinery. There are few things that hurt your body more than worry. Adrian Rogers said, “Worry is the interest we pay on borrowed trouble.”
Once again, Paul is not ignoring the problems of life. He knew better than anyone what problems were. He was facing death in a Roman prison. Most of us have little to worry about compared to Paul. Life here on this earth is full of problems and burdens to bear. But we, who are God’s children by faith in Christ, have the privilege to go to the Lord in prayer. Remember the song, “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear, what a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer. Oh what peace we often forfeit, oh what needles pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”
Since joy is found “in the Lord” and not in our circumstances, we need to walk in closeness to the Lord. That means we have to carve out time to read His Word and pray. We need a quiet time with the Lord to hear Him speak to us through His Word.
Here, we are told not to worry. “Don’t be anxious about anything.” In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus taught us the danger of worry. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Over and over, He says, “Don’t be anxious.” Worry is useless. It doesn’t make things better. If you can fix it, fix it. If you can’t fix it, stop worrying about it because worry is not going to fix it. If it’s going to happen, worry isn’t going to stop it. And if it isn’t going to happen, there is no need to worry.
In reality, worry is a sin, just like adultery, murder, and theft are sins. Worry is failing to trust God. God’s Word says, “Whatever is not of faith is sin.” Worry is insulting to God. It’s saying this problem is bigger than God or God won’t do what’s best. If you are an atheist, go ahead and worry. But if you believe there’s a God, and that He is sovereign and that He loves you as His child, don’t worry.
So what is the antidote for worry? It’s prayer. It’s talking to God. Someone might say, “My little problem isn’t big enough to pray about.” If it is big enough to worry about, it’s big enough to pray about. All of our prayers are little to God. The God who created this universe and upholds it with His power - Is He not big enough to handle your problem?
1 Peter 5:7 says, “Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Isn’t worry a tool the Devil uses to devour us? Prayer is a tool we can use to defend ourselves. Take your worries to God in prayer.
We should do the same thing with our cares that we do with our sins. We should carry them to Jesus and cast them on the Lord. His grace is not only for our sins but also for our cares. We give God our sins, and He gives us His righteousness. Likewise, we give Him our cares, and He gives us His peace. What a trade!
When we pray, God gives us peace. Verse 7 says, “And the peace of God which surpasses all understnding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” His peace becomes our guard. Paul has guards all around him at this time in prison, but he said that God’s peace became his guard. The peace of God stands guard over our minds and keeps us focused on Christ. Corrie Ten Boom said, “Look around and be distressed. Look inside and be depressed. Look at Jesus and be at rest.”
Thirdly, we need to give thanks continually. In verse 6, Paul says “with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God”. Joy is a result of a thankful heart. Ingratitude is a terrible sin. Have you ever had someone not appreciate the time and energy and effort you put into something? How terrible it is for us not to be grateful to God!
In verse 8, Paul is going to tell us how to “think”, but here in verse 6, he tells us how to “thank.” We have to learn how to thank before we can learn how to think.
The word “thanksgiving” that Paul uses is translated from the Greek word “eucharistia” (you-ca-ris-tea-u). We get our word “eucharist” from that word. Eucharist is another name for the Lord’s Supper which is a time for us to give thanks to Jesus for His death on the Cross and his shed blood. All of our thanksgiving must begin there - at Calvary. If we have been saved, we have much to be thankful for.
This is why we sing when we come together for church. We are practicing thanksgiving. We are giving thanks to God for who He is and what He has done. That is why everyone should participate, because everyone should be thankful. When we sing, we are cultivating an attitude of gratitude.
We need to first give thanks to God for who He is (All powerful, all knowing, ever loving, all gracious, all sovereign, and all Holy God.). But also we need to give thanks to God for what He has done. He daily loads us with benefits. (Psalm 68:19)
Ephesians 5:20 says “Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This goes along with Phil. 4:4 as being one of the hardest verses to actually practice in the Bible. We are to give thanks always for all things.
Thank God for the simple things, like running water. But also thank God for the sorrowful things. When we are hurting, when we are having problems, when we are sorrowful, we are still to thank Him. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” It is God’s will for us to be thankful.
The story is told of Harry Ironside, who was about to eat his meal in a busy restaurant. A man approached and asked if he could join him. Ironside invited him to have a seat. Then, as was his custom, Ironside bowed his head in prayer. When he opened his eyes, the other man asked, "Do you have a headache?" Ironside replied, "No, I don't." The other man asked, "Well, is there something wrong with your food?" Ironside replied, "No, I was simply thanking God as I always do before I eat."The man said, "Oh, you're one of those, are you? Well, I want you to know I never give thanks. I earn my money by the sweat of my brow and I don't have to give thanks to anybody when I eat. I just start right in!"Ironside said, "Yes, you're just like my dog. That's what he does too!”
Maybe you always pray before you eat and thank the Lord for your food, but is that the only time you thank the Lord? We should be thanking Him all through the day.
It is impossible for the seed of discouragement or the seed of pride to take root in a thankful heart. It is our greatest weapon against Satan’s fiery dart of discouragement and pride. Give thanks to God for the prayers that God has already answered in your life. Thank Him for saving your soul and how he has helped you grow spiritually in your relationship with God. Thank Him for all the friends God has given you and the family members who love you so much. Thank Him for how He has supplied your needs. If you have a roof over your head, a car to drive, food to eat, and decent clothes to wear, you are wealthier than 98 percent of the world’s population. You are ahead of most people. You will feel more grateful if you take time to remember that EVERYTHING you are given is a gift. You don’t deserve anything and are not entitled to anything.
George Hubert said, "Thou O Lord has given so much to me, give me one more thing - a grateful heart."