The Result that Rejoicing Brings
Topic: Pauline Epistles Passage: Philippians 4:1–4:9
“THE RESULT THAT REJOICING BRINGS”
1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Someone has described “joy” as “the flag that flies over the castle of out hearts announcing that ‘the King is at home today’.” Or, as another has put it in a similar vein, “Joy is the surest sign of the presence of God.”
Such descriptions, though undertsood, are a bit too simplistic. They can even create a false impression of the Christian living, as if to equate a healthy relationship with the Lord to “putting on a happy face.” One writer I recently read actually said, “There are no sad saints.” Can that possibly be true?
Life often comes at us hard and fast. To simply “smile off” unexpected setbacks is to practice denial. We are human beings, after all, and the Scriptures give us permission to “grieve” (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13) on those occasions when it is appropriate to do so. At the same time, however, God’s people are repeatedly commanded in both the Old and New Testaments to “Rejoice in the Lord” (cf. Psalm 32:11, 35:9, et al). That being said, “joy” is clearly not something that is always expressed by a smiling countenance.
In the first message of this series from Philippians, I pointed out that when the Bible speaks of “joy,” it is not referring to a passive emotion in response to a pleasant experience or circumstance. Neither is it an artificial smile that we are forced to wear while our minds are troubled or our hearts are in pain. Instead, “joy” is a work of God produced by the Spirit of God in the people of God. Galatians 5:22 even calls it a “fruit of the Spirit.”
“Joy” for the Christian, therefore, is a graciously granted gift from a benevolent God by which satisfaction—and even delight—can be found in any and every circumstance of life in which we find ourselves. “Joy” is a settled inner conviction and confidence that—regardless of what may have happened, is currently happening, and may possibly happen—God will enable me to “rejoice” because He is still God and I am secure in Him.
This truth needs to be proclaimed and reinforced in the church today...by members and pastors alike. The practical way that the 4th chapter of Philippians is introduced serves to remind us that—despite the fact that Christ will one day receive His Bride “without spot or wrinkle” (cf. Ephesians 5:27)—the Church remains far from displaying that description now. If anything, she is a badly flawed “bride-in-waiting,” being cleansed of her impurities and imperfections with every passing day.
We find an example of this in the passage before us. In verses 1 through 3, we uncover a disagreement between two members of the Philippian church that had created a potential threat to the health of the entire local body. And then in verses 4 through 9, we find Paul’s prescribed remedy, as well as the results that the application of the cure would bring.
So, let’s walk through this passage together, beginning with...
The reason for the entreaty (verses 1-3).
Whatever may have been the nature and source of the conflict between two church members or its content, Paul was greatly concerned that the matter be addressed and corrected as quickly as possible. Incarcerated in Rome and separated by more than eight hundred miles from the saints in Philippi, he nevertheless was well aware that division and disunity among the brethren stood in the way of Gospel progress.
The compassion of the apostle is clearly revealed in the very first verse, where he addresses his readers as both “my brothers” and “my beloved.” He “loved” them and “longed” to be with them. They were, after all, his “joy and crown,” the product of his ministry when he was among them. They were his “trophy.” He had “won” them for Christ.
By way of exhortation, he urges them all—the entire church—to “stand firm ...in the Lord.” Paul’s compassion for them was not founded on some “syrupy sentimentalism.” It was firmly founded upon their common faith in Christ. So he begins by urging them to remain unmovable and unwavering in holding tightly to the truth they had come to believe.
The realism of the Bible testifies to its authentic character. In verses 2 and 3, we have a glimpse into a church conflict that centered around two of its members. In this case it was two women, whose names were Euodia and Syntyche. It could have been two men or two groups. Church history is replete with many examples and many types of church disputes...ranging from everything from theological doctrine to what color the carpet should be in the sanctuary.
In his “entreaty” to these two women—and that repeated verb (“παρακαλεω”) carries more of a note of encouragement than a word of military command—Paul urges them to “agree in the Lord.” This is not the first time this basic principle of Christian unity has surfaced in this epistle. In chapter 2(:2), he told the entire body, “Complete my joy by being of the same mind.” And in chapter 3(:15) he wrote, “Let those of us who are mature think this way.”
In all three references, Paul refers to “thinking (‘φρονεω’) in the same manner.” That doesn’t mean completely agreeing at every point with another person’s position. What it does mean is to “think through” the implications that the disagreement has on the spread of the Gospel. In other words, is this “a hill worth dying on,” or one worth bringing division among the members of the church?
In this case, Paul did not believe so, which is why he encourages them to “agree.”
There are times when disagreements between two members cannot solved by an “entreaty.” In his absence, Paul calls upon one he simply identifies as his “true companion” to “help these women.” The word “help” (“συλλαμβανω”) means “to bring together.” In other words, this anonymous brother was to serve as a third-party “mediator” and help to bring about a settlement to the dispute that existed between Euodia and Syntyche.
What must not be missed is what is said in the remainder of verse 3. Paul’s concern for the reconciliation of these two women was because they had “labored side by side with (him) in the gospel,” along with others in the Philippian church, who are here labeled his “fellow workers.” The work of ministry is rarely easy or simple. The struggle is real and loyal companions in the labor are often difficult to find and even harder to hold onto. Paul was intent on keeping these two women involved in the work of the Gospel that remained to be done.
I believe there is a parallel to be drawn with the two phrases, “in the Lord” in verse 1 and “in the gospel” here in verse 3. “(Laboring) side by side in the gospel” is related to “stand(ing) firm...in the Lord.” I don’t believe it is a stretch to conclude that the reputation of Christ would very likely be impacted by whether the issue between Euodia and Syntyche was resolved.
After all, their names were written “in the book of life,” God’s accurate record of those who belong to Him. These women were both followers of Christ and “fellow workers” in the Gospel. God had called them to “peace,” just as He has called those of us who make up this local body to “peace” as well (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:15). The church covenant that we regularly recite and pledge to one another reads, “We will work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
But “peace” does not always result whenever a group of Christians get together or make pledges to one another. For “peace” to reign, something else has to be in place. And that something is “joy.”
Think again of Galatians 5(:22-23), where Paul lists “the fruit of the Spirit.” There we read, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace...” The order in which the “fruit” are listed is not inconsequential. “Peace” is preceded by “joy”...both in the list and in the Christian life. In fact, where “joy” is commanded and obeyed, “peace” is promised. Our problem is that we expect the reverse to be true. We want “peace” so that we can be “joyful.” The Lord seems to indicate that is getting the cat before the horse. “Joy” “in the Lord” both precedes and will produce the “peace” that we seek.
That seems to be what Paul is prescribing in verses 4 through 9. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” And as we do, two things will happen.
The first result of rejoicing: the peace of God will guard you (verses 4-7).
We have already noted that “joy” is not equated with “happiness.” It is rather a command...and, for the Christian, it is a provision granted by God that is to be appropriated and applied to every circumstance that we face. Even—as the context of this passage requires—disagreements among fellow church members.
Paul is here implying that by “(rejoicing) in the Lord” we will experience “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.” This statement demands a personal application within a corporate context. I sometimes hear people say, while carrying a grudge toward a fellow believer, that they have “peace with themselves” about the very situation that divides them. That is not the kind of “peace” for which this passage advocates.
I know that to be the case because of what is said in verse 5: “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.” The word that the ESV translates “reasonableness” (“επιεικηs”) is rendered in other versions as “graciousness” (CSV), “gentleness” (NIV), “moderation” (KJV), and “forbearance” in others. This word is used in 2 Corinthians 10:1 to denote that characteristic attitude of Jesus during His earthly life. It describes an attitude that is non-retaliatory, seeking what is best for everyone and not just for oneself.
The motivation for maintaining that kid of attitude is the reminder that “The Lord is near.” Possibly a double-entendre is intended in this phrase. There would seem to be both a temporal and spatial meaning. Yes, “the Lord is near” in terms of His promised return...it is the next event to take place in redemptive history. But it is equally true that “the Lord is near” in terms of proximity. By His Spirit He indwells His Church and is its sole Arbiter. Every dispute among its members is answerable to Him. Therefore, we are to “Let (our) reasonableness be known to everyone”...saint and sinner alike. It is, after all, His reputation that is at stake.
Verse 6 provides the key to “(rejoicing) in the Lord.” We read, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Nothing creates greater anxiety within a church than when two members are at odds with one another. When the conflict becomes widely known, everyone is “on edge.” Here, Paul tells us that “prayer” is the antidote to anxiety.
When Paul says, “pray about it,” he is not speaking in cliché in the manner that we often do. Rather, he employs four words in reference to four components of “prayer” that we are to keep in mind. As children we learned that “praying is simply talking with God.” And while that is in its most basic sense true, it is also true that we do not remain children all of our lives. We need to get beyond “baby talk” with God and pray with maturity.
The words that the apostle employs in this exhortation have a relationship with one another, but they are not synonymous.
- Prayer” (“προσευχη”) is the most general term in the group. It refers to the worshipful state of the believer and his approach to God.
- “Supplication” (“δεησιs”) refers to petitions or expressions of need brought to God.
- “Thanksgiving” (“ευχαριστια”) is an explicit knowledge of gratitude in being aware of our creatureliness and dependence, in recognition of the fact that everything comes from God.
- And “requests” (“αιτημα”) refers to the specific things being asked for in “prayer.”
When we pray in this manner—and are not just “saying prayers, but truly praying from the heart as Paul prescribes here—we can be confident that the God, whose ways are higher than ours, is trustworthy and His answer will be accompanied by His “peace.” Verse 7 reads, “And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The picture is of a garrison of soldiers standing on guard duty by way of protection. God assures us of His impenetrable protection.
Disunity brings on anxiety, and the cure is to embrace “the peace of God” that comes through prayer. It is worth noting—in fact, it is essential—that the second person pronouns (“‘υμων”) in this series of exhortations are plural. What that tells us is that this is not a prescription for an individual, but rather for the church collectively. How many disputes among church members might be more quickly resolved—and possibly even prevented—were we to be more faithful in praying for and with one another. It is this to which we have been called.
In the absence of joy, we will not pray as we ought. And when “joy” and “prayer” are missing, “the peace of God” will not be found.
Even before we are able to have “the peace of God,” we must have “peace with God.” And as Romans 5:1 explains, that only comes by having “been justified by faith through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 2:13-14 explains, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace.” As the “Prince of Peace” (cf. Isaiah 9:6), Christ through His death built “the bridge of peace” that not only links us with God but with every other person who calls upon His name. And what a great cause for “rejoicing” that is!
Therefore, the first result of “rejoicing” is to know “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.”
The second result of rejoicing: the God of peace will be with you (verses 8-9).
Paul is doing more than playing word games when he speaks of “the peace of God” and “the God of peace.” Both are the outcome when the believer “rejoice(s) in the Lord.” Here in verses 8 and 9, he draws this part of his argument to a conclusion by appealing to thought-life that is to characterize Christians.
“Thinking” has been described as “the sturdy foundation of our easily misguided affections.” Many of us do not like to think. It is much easier to “go with the flow” or live by our feelings. “Thinking” is an essential part of understanding. If we are to truly understand God and to find our place in His overall plan, then we must engage our minds.
In the previous paragraph we noted how the kind of “prayer” that results in “the peace of God” has a positive effect upon our “minds,” as well as our “hearts”...in other words, both our “thoughts” and our “emotions.” Now here, we are told how the right kind of “thinking” leads to experiencing “the God of peace.”
I believe what Paul is referring to here is what the 17th-century Carmelite monk known as Brother Lawrence referred to The Practice of the Presence of God. Granted, Brother Lawrence was a mystic, but his emphasis on keeping our thought life centered upon the Lord still reads likes a breath of fresh air in a day when we are preoccupied by so many other—and far lesser—things.
In these two verses we are given six morally and spiritually excellent things upon which our minds are to be fixed. Each is introduced by a “whatever is...” phrase. Let’s look at each one briefly:
- “Whatever is true (‘αληθηs’)” refers to those things that are “valid,” “reliable,” and “honest”... in contrast with those which are “false.”
- “Whatever is honorable (‘σεμνοs’)” means “respectable” or “of good character.”
- “Whatever is just (‘δικαιοs’)” refers to that which is “upright,” “conformable to God’s standards,” and “worthy of His approval.
- “Whatever is pure (‘‘αγνοs’)” emphasizes “innocence” and “moral purity.”
- “Whatever is lovely (‘προσφιληs’)” speaks of what is “pleasant,” “agreeable,” or “amiable.”
- And “whatever is commendable (‘ευφημοs’)” refers to that which is “praiseworthy,” “admirable,” and “consistent with the highest standards.”
Paul is not here arguing that everything in the world is “bad” or “evil.” But he is saying that we need to be discriminate in what we watch, listen to, and become absorbed with lest we lose our perspective and distinctiveness as followers of Christ. In other words, where are our minds found wandering around?
So, how does your thought-life measure up within these parameters? Before you answer, notice that Paul inserts two further conditional clauses for rhetorical emphasis: “If there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
The command to “think” (“λογιζομαι”) means much more than “to give passing thought to.” It means “to consider,” “to calculate,” or “to take into account.” It implies paying careful attention to what we permit to enter into our minds and thoughts.
It has been said that most of the problems that occur between members of a local church are because they have engaged in too much “stinkin’ thinkin’.” Rather than letting the Scriptures to shape our thinking, far too often we allow ourselves to be patterned by contemporary culture and our own personal preferences. Paul had a poignant word to say about this in Romans 12, verses 1 and 2. Familiar words, but ones that never become irrelevant or out-of-date:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
One of Satan’s most damning lies is in getting us to think that there are greater “joys” to be found in following “the ways of the world” than in following “the way of the Lord.” And yet it is said of the Lord in Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Every competing claim for “joy” is a false claim. It is inferior at best and counterfeit at worst.
Not only does the believer’s “rejoicing in the Lord” result in having “the peace of God,” but also in having “the God of peace”...the personal and abiding presence of the living Lord.
The apostle concludes in verse 9, by saying, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me (in other words, by my example)—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” “Make it a habit,” Paul says, in daily living out the truth of Scripture and you will experientially know the presence of God.
In the 73rd Psalm, Asaph the writer recounts his struggle to understand why the wicked prosper and the righteous are afflicted. But the “hinge” upon which that psalm turns is found in verses 16 and 17, where he says, “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God (which I believe means the inner recesses of prayer and meditation with the Lord); then I discerned their end.” And in verses 23 through 26, he concludes,
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
What the psalmist is describing here is “the peace of God” that comes from knowing—truly knowing—“the God of peace.”
In another of the Psalms, David wrote from experience, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.” (Psalm 37:3-5a).
“Peace” reigns where God is permitted to live and work. But in order for “peace” to be manifested, God’s people must be willing to set aside their personal differences find their “joy” in Him alone. The result that “rejoicing in the Lord” brings is “peace”...“peace” that overcomes every church conflict and brings harmony to the Body. And while broader application from this passage can certainly be made, church unity is the context from which the apostle’s words spring.
How important this is in the world in which we live, a world that has been labeled “post-Christian.” Many around us have lost their bearings because they have generally rejected a God we profess to believe in but fall short of modeling well. At a time in world history when “fear” is a much greater reality than “joy,” we as the followers of the crucified, risen, and coming again Christ have been given the privilege of living out “the gospel of peace” (cf. Ephesians 6:15). But this cannot happen unless we find our “joy” in Him.
When I was in college a book was released entitled, Great Church Fights. At the time, my buddies and I joked about the title, innocently presuming that the churches we would one day serve would never face such a problem. More than forty years later, we each have our “war stories” to share...and we cannot help but wonder how much damage has been done to the cause of Christ because of them.
“I have told you these things,” Jesus said, “that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).
The apostle echoed our Lord’s words when he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice...And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus...practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”