Summary: We have gotten used to fear as a part of our daily lives. But it is a monster, ready and willing to destroy our effectiveness as believers, and steal our joy. Let’s see what Paul has to say about it in the context of this familiar passage about prayer.
How many of you have memorized that passage, at some point maybe even have quoted it? Good. You know what they say about familiarity though, don’t you? Familiarity can breed a lot of contempt and this particular passage is a familiar one. You’ve heard it many times. And sometimes the familiarity we have with certain verses in Scripture can really breed contempt. "We’ve already got that verse down." We understand what it means. It’s not a particularly controversial passage. Scholars aren’t wrangling over it. There it is. I’m going to tell you that this passage, or God has used this passage this week to, frankly, knock me on the seat of my pants. This familiar passage. Because God has shown me through these few verses some really powerful principles for victorious and effective Christian living. If we will deny these principles that are found in this passage, we will live an ineffective, defeated Christian life. We will. It is so foundational. There is a potential found in these few verses, four little verses, for great failure. But, of course, wherever there is potential for great failure, there’s also potential for great success.
I’ve been preaching for twenty-five years. I don’t think I’ve ever preached a more critical sermon in my life; not critical in terms of I’m going to criticize, but critical in terms of important. Our Christian life rests on the principles that God is showing us through this passage. If we reject them, if we live our lives in rejection of them, we will live ineffective, fruitless Christian lives. But, if we will take God at His word, then we will live a victorious and fruitful Christian life. At the end of this sermon, you may agree with me or you may reject it. You may want to ride me out of town on a rail. Well, I’ll take that chance.
This passage answers three questions that are vital to the effectiveness of every believer. The first question is this: "How can God expect me to always rejoice? How can God expect me to put verse 4 of Philippians 4 into practice in my life? I mean, after all, there’s all kinds of bad things happening to me all the time. How does anyone in their right mind tell me to rejoice in the Lord always? Isn’t there a chance that I can get out of this? Wasn’t Paul smoking crack or something when he wrote this?" Well, Paul was in jail. He was in a Roman prison on trial for his life when he wrote this and he was there because he had been preaching the Gospel unashamedly. So, this is not a person who is writing this from some kind of a scholarly ivory tower. This is the Apostle Paul on trial for his life, sitting in a very fearful situation, where we all would have said, "Paul, you’ve got every reason to whine, every reason to complain and the last thing that we would expect you to do is rejoice." And he’s writing to people who were basically in the same boat. The Philippians were not rich people. They were in a thriving commercial metropolis, but they were not rich themselves.
Where do we rejoice? "Rejoice…" Those next three words are awfully important, aren’t they? Because it gives the foundation of where that joy comes from. "Rejoice in the Lord." That’s important. The Bible does not answer a lot of the why questions that we like to ask. "Why does this happen to me? Why didn’t I get that raise? Why are my finances in a struggle? Why am I ill? Why did my house burn down?" And the Bible is silent. But instead, the Bible gives us this constant repetition about the nature and character of God. In the middle of all the whys, in answer to all the whys, God says, "You know what? I’m infinitely powerful. I’m infinitely responsible. I’m infinitely dependable. I’m infinitely loving. And on the basis of those things that I keep telling you about Myself, I call on you to rejoice." We are in the arms, if we are believers and we’ve put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, we are in the arms of the great God who has chosen us to be His children and who is, as that Godly Parent, the very essence of responsibility. Do you know someone who when you ask them to do something and when they say okay, you can forget about it because it’s going to be done. Do you know people like that? Don’t you love people like that? "Okay, I’ll do it." And you just forget about it, you take it off your list. It’s going to be done. That’s how God presents Himself. And we don’t even have to necessarily ask Him to do something. He is there waiting to do things. He is ahead of us doing things.