Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | October 2, 2011

Sermon on Philippians 4:4

Rejoice? Always? Really? Yes.

  • Order of Service: Word and Sacrament (CW, p26)
  • Lessons: Ezekiel 33:7-11, Romans 13:1-10, Matthew 18:15-20
  • Hymns: 493, 308, 311:1-3, 6-7, 505:1, 3-5

In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

I imagine two things struck you about that verse from Philippians Iread between the lessons from Romans and Matthew.  Firstly, why this verse on this day?  Secondly, rejoice?  Always?  Really?  This verse stands next to Matthew 6’s Do not worry (Matt. 6:25) as one of the most oft-quoted and oft-questioned Bible verses.  Who could possibly rejoice always?  Who would want to?  Paul says, “You do.”

He tells you to be glad, be delighted, thrive!  Rejoice!  Throughout Philippians He explains why.  He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6), because it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose (Phil. 2:13).

And this is so, Paul says, because, through faith, You share in God’s grace with me (Phil. 1:7) and because you share in that grace, To live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21).

And then He showed you that very Christ, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8).

Oh what an ode to joy you can sing seeing this Christ!  Because He did more than historical things: I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith (Phil. 3:8-9).

Oh, how you can rejoice, forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead (Phil. 3:14)!  Rejoice that your citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body (Phil. 3:20).

How can you not rejoice in the face of that?  Paul writes from prison filled with joy.  Because He knew these things.  In chains, he was free.  So are you, through faith in Christ.  Yet our tendency is to not rejoice.  We tend to get downhearted, fearful, cynical.

Look at today’s lessons from Ezekiel, Romans, and Matthew.  We get cynical about sinners and warning them, as the LORD commanded Ezekiel.  “Why bother?  Nothing ever comes of it.”  Or, “God may want them to turn, but I’m not sure I do.”  We get cynical about the governments God established because they’re filled with corruption and sin.  We don’t want our taxes to support some of the things governments do.  We don’t want to honor leaders who aren’t all that honor-worthy.  And, let’s face it, we’re just greedy, lazy, and selfish sometimes too, not willing to fork over our hard-earned money to help others, not willing to give credit to any else for working hard on our behalf.  We get cynical about carrying out the law and gospel discipline Christ enjoins upon us, “Eh, they’re just telling me what I want to hear.”  “Why should I, it’s not my job?”  Or, if not cynical, fearful.  “I don’t want to confront So-and-So about such-and-such.  How can I, I’ve done the same things?  What if they hate me forever for it?  What if I screw it up?”

Truth is, acting this way isn’t just fearful and cynical – it’s disobedient.  These are God’s direct commands.  “Warn!”  “Obey!”  “Discipline!”  To not do that, well.  God’s textbook defines such disobeying as sin.  And that same book says that no sinner enters eternal life.  No two ways around that.

And in Pauline terms, it’s failing to rejoice.  Because you’ve moved outside how Paul qualifies that rejoicing:  Rejoice in the Lord!  Within the Lord and His Word, among His blessings, in His Christ, we rejoice.  You’ve lived long enough to know that apart from Christ happiness and joy in jobs, family, money, birthdays, gifts, football, and all the stuff of this world is transitory at best.  It’s looking for joy in all the wrong places when the only true joy to be found is in the Lord and His Christ!  Apart from that there’s nothing to really rejoice in at all, not to mention, always!  But in Christ we rejoice, because He turns our grief to joy.  Just by knowing Him, finding Him, holding on to Him in repentance and faith.  Thus the LORD calls out, Turn!  Turn from your evil ways and live (Ezekiel 33:11), because Christ Himself says that unbinding follows the turning:  If he repents, forgive him (Luke 17:3)!  And what is forgiven by our brothers God forgives in heaven!  Rejoice!  Always!

There’s that difficult adverb.  Rejoice – always!  At all times.  Forever.  This only becomes possible when you push yourself to the side and Christ to the center.  Only then will you extol the LORD at all times (Psalm 34:1).  Because then you’ve heard Christ who preached from the mountain, Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven (Matthew 5:12).  Then jobs, family, money, birthdays, gifts, football, and all the stuff of this world become a source of joy, because they are set next to Christ and seen as coming from Him.  You see them in the proper perspective.  And then you can rejoice always, even in suffering, even in disappointment, even in the hard work of sounding out the warning about sinful living and obeying the government, because the glory of Christ will soon be revealed and the reality of forgiveness lived in the place where forgiveness is no longer needed!

So convinced is Paul that he says.  I will say it again, rejoice!  Repetition for effect.  Repetition to drive a point home.  Repetition because you need to hear this again.  Repetition that helps you understand that this is your privilege and pleasure, to rejoice, in the Lord, always!  It’s not pie in the sky stuff for Paul to say things like, Give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18) or We also rejoice in our sufferings (Romans 5:2), or for James to say, Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds (James 1:2).  The first disciples of Jesus weren’t out of their minds when they went home rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name (Acts 5:41).

If that sounds crazy to you, it’s because you’ve forgotten that every moment of every day you are able to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer (Romans 12:12).  You’ve forgotten Christ who went to the cross’s affliction for you and gives you hope.  So, we need to hear this from Paul on this Sunday as watchmen who get tired of sounding the warning and think about hanging up our horns, as citizens of the world getting tired of all the sinful corruption around us and thinking about packing in our obedience and our taxes, as brothers and sisters in Christ getting tired of confronting sin, tired of binding the unrepentant in their sins and loosing the repentant in their repentance, as humans who so easily get diverted towards joys that are not truly joys, as sinners ourselves pained by the shackles of our own sinfulness.  We need to hear this so that our whole mindset can be turned topsy-turvy, so that we see that it is a privilege and a joy we have, something to rejoice in, not a burden, not a hateful job, that is, that united with Christ we GET to do these things, we get to love God above all things and love our neighbor as ourselves.  Because He loved us first.

It’s not always skittles and beer in a corrupt and sinful world, yet in Christ rejoice in Gospel triumphs, in souls won (including yours!), in repentance gained (yours too!), in taxes paid, in service rendered faithfully, in honor given, in love displayed.  Rejoice when it happens; rejoice when you get to do it.  Because it’s God working in you and through you.  Even if it’s only heaping burning coals upon hardened, hate-filled degenerates, still, you get to do this, in Christ, for Christ, and to Christ.  For where you are together in faith in Him, there He is.  So you can rejoice.  Always.  Because it’s really just practice for the eternal rejoicing of heaven.  Amen!

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