Philippians 4:4-7: Rejoice

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In parallel with Lent, Advent pulses with penitential underpinnings, preparing the unprepared for Christ’s coming. Not only His birth, but His return to reign over His creation and Church. So, this preparatory season encourages you and me to consider our sin—the reason Christ came into our world.

Yet, such penitence cannot restrain the wonder of our God’s arrival, full of grace and truth. So, we light the third candle on the Advent wreath. The color is rose, symbolizing the joy breaking into the sorrow of the darker blue. In our repentance and waiting, we cry out: Rejoice! The peace-providing Lord comes our way!

The Apostle recognizes the saving revelation of a forgiving Savior will face rival and resistance. Today, disagreements and disapproval of Jesus still exist—of course, in different cultural practices and expressions. These, by their fashion and form, hinder our hope in the promise of eternity and the confession we make (Philippians 1:28).

A congregation faced opposition to its freedom, in Jesus’ sin-destroying Word, from Jewish-Christian legalists. Oh, those holdovers sought to impose portions of the Mosaic Law in the New-Covenant Church (3:2-3). A works-righteous legalism created internal conflict, dividing and provoking dissension (Euodia and Syntyche, 2:2-3).

Today, congregations face divisions of many kinds, fostering unrest, which likewise attack our Gospel-won freedoms. Expect at least a sliver of hardship in your life if you confess Christ as Lord (1:29). Doesn’t Paul warn us of this? Didn’t Christ Himself endure “death on a cross” (2:8)?

Should someone who belittles you for your faith surprise or shock you? No, because “God granted you the privilege to believe in Christ—and suffer because of him.” So, as the Lord’s Apostle wrote, “you fight the same struggles [he] once faced” (1:29-30). For him, this included imprisonment (1:12-14).

Stop living as though nothing significant happened. The Lord Jesus is here! Amid friction, fray, and foe, without and within, Christ’s followers at Philippi occupied an unsettled state, anxious and lacking peace. External circumstances from an unbelieving world undermined the hope Jesus offered. So, Paul inspired and uplifted, to build them up and show what he meant to “join in imitating [him]” (3:17). The goal? To “let this mind be among yourselves, which becomes yours in Christ Jesus” (2:5).

“Go, tell John what you saw and heard,” Jesus taught in today’s reading from Luke. “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers become clean, the deaf can hear, the dead arise, and the Gospel goes out to the poor” (Luke 7:22). Through Paul, the Philippians understand who Christ is, how His proclamation, “the Lord is at hand,” strode forth to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy. The foretold Sin-Forgiver entered our world to dwell with His people, Philippian Christians, and wherever His faithful assemble.

The Lord’s work displays its prophetic fulfillment, being born as the promised Messiah, shown by the life He lived. In Philippians 2, Paul recounts this, with Jesus taking on the form of a servant who sacrifices Himself for our sin. So, the Father above exalts Jesus by raising Him from the stony tomb of death, bestowing on Him God’s name, who is Lord, both of heaven and earth (2:6-11).

This risen reality causes us to live, not as unbelievers, but unveiled in our daily lives by a turn of phrase or a deed well-done. Why? First, Jesus is present through His Word. Second, He will return and raise our bodies on the Last Day. Listen to Paul, speaking of how he strove to experience the coming “resurrection from the dead” (3:11).

Though I did not receive or achieve this goal, I keep running to win what Christ won for me. My brothers, I do not yet consider myself to have reached this. Still, I press, forgetting what is behind, straining forward to what lies ahead. Toward the prize, I strive for the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. [3:12-13]

Alive in this truth, Paul calls Christians to imitate him by rejoicing always! The foundation for this jubilation stems from God’s Son, our Savior. Consider Philippians chapter 3, “I count everything as loss [considering them rubbish] because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord” (3:8).

The reason for this joyfulness resonates “in the Lord.” A joy since He overcame our sinfulness for our eternal gain. Yes, He defeated every evil, which robbed a fallen world of hope and genuine happiness through His suffering and death on our behalf.

The heaven-sent Sin-Slayer eradicated our wrongs on the cross, which separated us, sinners, from Him. Now, He reunites His own, back with Him, making you and me His children despite our condition or station. Yes, we become benefactors of undeserved divine favor and compassion because of Christ.

From His grace-bestowing and astounding labors, Jesus supplies a once-forlorn people with newfound purpose and a reason to serve with joy. How can we not celebrate? For our Father smiles upon once lost and unforgivable delinquents and the works we do, now made holy and blessed. The constant declaration of Christ, “I forgive your sins,” sustains otherwise weak creatures in a joyful resolve.

In Jesus’ abiding presence, we glory, for He is close by, “at hand.” So, don’t brood or discover yourself beset over life, for Christ is near, who cherishes His own. Only He invites the undeserving, you and me, to commit our concerns to Him. Confident of His care, we can even offer our prayers and thanksgiving for things yet to come. So, we celebrate His promises to return, always nearby, in His second coming.

Twice, Paul repeats what he wrote in chapter 3: “rejoice.” Earlier, he told us why: to live in his risen Redeemer and experience His rising from death, to rise from death’s grave, as well (3:10-11). Don’t miss the connection between rejoicing in our Lord and His reappearance to come.

Born on this earth, fragile, and wearing our flesh, Jesus infiltrated our human realm. Both God and Man, He did what we cannot, cleansing sin-infected beings, now purified for everlasting life. Yes, we can rejoice—not tremble—when He comes again in glory.

This joy is an unbroken underpinning for everyone living from and in their Savior, Jesus. Regardless of emotions, which lurch and stagger, a steadfast certainty always thrums in our lives. Why, this, too, descends from God, a divine gift as you walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Oh, one of many gifts our Father grants to those belonging to His Son, those blessed with en-Spirited life. With the Spirit’s other blessings (love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control), an eternal and foundational well-being blesses you within this world.

Now, since God gives this ever-present joy as a gift, a fortunate event or occurrence doesn’t bring this into being. Such God-given joyfulness is independent of life’s circumstances, irrespective of your momentary feelings, whether dancing in harmony or quarreling in strife. No matter what, this joyous treasure is a constant, shaping how we respond, including hatred and hostility. How? By responding based on who we are as God’s beloved, living with an undaunted hope because of our salvation?

Christian congregations can discover themselves intimidated into conforming to the world instead of Christ. Do we not live in an ever-politicizing society, strident and rude and prone to violence? Over the last five or ten years, the tenor of our public life squandered away our moderation and distaste for slander. Though Christ calls His people for something different, which Paul encourages us to be.

The ESV reads “reasonableness” toward everyone, including unbelievers, who assail and oppress our Lord’s precious Church. In the Greek-language Old Testament, this term (epieikes) referred to God’s gentleness and forbearance (Psalm 86:5, Wisdom 12:18, Baruch 2:27). For people, the patient firmness of the righteous, who rely on God, though the godless may scorn them (Wisdom 2:19). A gracious gentility wherever we are in life, whether in calm or in conflict.

Those brought into Christ’s fold should display restraint, including those who oppose and persecute you. Meet opposition with kindness and courtesy, not with opposite and equal resistance. Oh, this doesn’t denote weakness, for we give no free pass or place to such contempt or hatred. Likewise, we should handle such discord within our congregation with similar patience and long-suffering (Galatians 5:22).

Become anxious over nothing. The exhortation concludes with an appeal not to worry, whatever may come. The Lord who lives humbled Himself to live with His chosen. Why should any action, event, disease, or pandemic intimidate those in God’s family?

Dwell not in distress, but call upon God with thankfulness, in your every circumstance or setting. The faith-creating Spirit shapes us to strive and press on, free of anxiety, to pray undeterred by our place or plight. Such prayers express trust in God, who attends to our needs and requests. To entrust everything to God means handing things over to Him. So, why worry?

Through the Word, lived out in prayer, God’s peace will keep our hearts and minds in Jesus. Only He is our divine Sentry, the Soldier standing guard over our thoughts and emotions our entire lives.

How easy to become captive to the anxieties unsettling our earthly existence, including doubts if the God of creation is with us as He promises. Isn’t He risen from the dead and exalted higher than every name in heaven above and here on earth? Yes! Tell me, why can’t He descend to be here, present with His people, whom He considers so precious? Fret not! On this day, during this season of Advent, rejoice! For Jesus, the provider of peace is with you, now and evermore! Amen.