Rejoice in the Lord
1. It's the third week of Advent. Among the four candles we light for Advent, the third one is called "the candle of joy." I would like us to focus our attention together on the words of the scriptures which speak about joy.
2. Sometime ago, I read you beginning from the fourth chapter and the fourth verse of the letter to the Philippian disciples. Since the word "joy" appears a lot in this letter, it has frequently been called "the letter of joy." Even here as well the word "joy" is repeated over and again. But, here we get an earful of something very strange. Paul says, "Always rejoice." This matter of "rejoicing" has to do with how we feel. Furthermore, we are quite familiar with the fact that our feelings sometimes don't go exactly the way we would like. Our feelings are strongly influenced by external factors. External causes always fluctuate and change. They are not always pleasant ones either. When our normal mental approach of "since I had happy things happen I am joyful" is the case, the exhortation to "rejoice always" is nonsensical. Therefore, what is being spoken about here doesn't seem to be in the dimension of "I am rejoicing when there are happy happenings." Rather, the truth is that "You can be joyful no matter what the external conditions are," and if we go further, the fact is "Even in the midst of difficulties or even in distress or sorrow you can be joyful." If you don't have that kind of joy, it's because the words "rejoice always" make no sense to you.
3. We know that this message was not just an opinion of Paul containing no substance. We know this because Paul himself had lived by such joy. As I said the week before, Paul sent this letter from prison. Paul knew that the outcome of his court trial could reach as far as the death penalty. Nevertheless, Paul related his own joy under that circumstance in Philippians 2:17: "Moreover, according to faith at this time you are offering up a sacrifice and serving in worship, I rejoice even though my blood is being spilled." [KJV says, "Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all." In the first place Paul's sufferings did not begin in prison. Paul's life had a series of hardships ever since he followed Christ and was called to the work of proclamation. In the letter addressed to the disciples at Corinth, here is how he speaks: "Five times I received from the Jews forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten by rod. Once I was stoned by rocks. Three times I was shipwrecked, I spent night and day at sea. I journeyed often. I encountered difficulties with water, difficulties from thieves, difficulties from my own countrymen, difficulties from Gentiles, difficulties from the towns, difficulties in the wilderness, difficulties at sea, and difficulties with false brethren, and I did hard labor, broke bones, went without sleep and starved going without eating on numerous occasions, was frozen in the cold and went naked. And I have more than this beside, on top of this, I worry about all the churches and have burdensome problems which press upon me daily," (2 Corinthians 11:24-28). These experiences go beyond our imaginations. Besides that, these experiences have never been rewarded in any visible form. He wrote to Timothy in the following way: "At the time of my first defense, no one gave me any help, but everyone deserted me," (2 Timothy 4:16). But, we are able to know through that letter that those particular hardships did not snatch away his joy. When he says here to "rejoice always" he says it as that type of person.
4. So, Paul goes on to say "Act so that your big hearts be known by everyone." Also, this is equal to "because you are able to live with big hearts." The word translated here as "big hearts [wide]" is a word with very rich connotations and is translated in other ways besides as " patience," "forbearance," "tolerance," and "tenderness." Setting aside how to translate it here, what Paul brings out on this matter is that there was in the church a problem of two women striving against each other. It said so in the record just before in verse two and afterwards. So the appearance of this word is not abrupt at all because such a matter definitely has to do with joy whether it be "patience" or "tolerance." In situations when we cannot act as though we have strong patience or tolerance, those times are none other than times we lose our true joy. We could probably say the opposite as well. In situations when one is filled with joy, that person is able to live with a large heart with forbearance and strong patience. Therefore, this exhortation comes following after the words "rejoice always."
The Lord Is Right Nearby
5. Well, then, upon what kind of foundation did he make this exhortation and in what way did he even live out his own life? After he made these two exhortations he adds on the following: "The Lord is right nearby." What might this mean?
6. In the early church it was one of the expressions used as a word of greeting. The greeting was the word "maranatha." In the New Testament in First Corinthians 16:22 it appears only once and just as it was pronounced in the Aramaic language. Maranatha means "O Lord, please come." It is a prayer of longing expectation for the second coming of Christ. Therefore, the message "The Lord is right nearby" which Paul uttered, must have been originally "The second coming of the Lord is near." But if one says Paul or the others at first thought Christ was absent until his coming and at the time of the second coming he was to come from a far distance, that would not be true at all. Christ was with them. In reality he was revealing his authority and power. They certainly believed that fact and they believed the words that he said, "I am always with you until the end of the world," (Matthew 28:20). In other words, the second coming of Christ is not about a person who is absent and on the way in, but as the One who is in a state of divinity he is with us and that time of his coming is being waited for with the expectation that he will reveal himself with his authority and power as final judge and as savior. Subsequently, when Paul says, "The Lord is right nearby," it is not just the second coming of Christ that is near, but I believe there is yet another meaning that is clear, which is "The Lord is with us."
7. Thus, when Paul said "rejoice always" and "so that your large hearts will be known by all persons," it was based on his knowing the hope of Christ's second coming and the blessing of Christ's presence. He had a source of joy here that was not based on external conditions. That was clear because he did not merely say "rejoice always" but was saying "rejoice in the Lord always." If this is literally translated it is the words "to be inside the Lord, within the Lord." These words become the key for understanding this letter. In this brief letter we get insight from both sets of words used eight times that can be translated "in the Lord," and the other set of words used eight times that can be translated "in Christ Jesus."
8. In the final analysis, the primary meaning of the words "in the Lord" or "within the Lord" has to do with the end-times. That means we begin to live in the light of God's kingdom which will be completely revealed by the second coming of Christ. We are living in this world but as persons already belonging to the world that is to come. Paul said, "Therefore, everyone joined to Christ (if translated literally, everyone who is in Christ) is a person created anew. The old person has passed away and a new one is produced," (2 Corinthians 5:17). This "being in the Lord" is equal to living as a new creation belonging to the world to come. So, another meaning of "being in the Lord" has to do with "the presence of Christ." That is, it's a relationship with Christ. In the words of Paul which I quoted earlier what was translated as "a person joined with Christ" includes that particular connotation. The believer lives in a relationship as one body that shares with Christ in his death and life.
9. However, if we simply take up "living as a person belonging to the world to come" which I stated above as an issue of mystical perceptibility or spiritual sensation, that is, if we merely think of "living in a relationship with Christ" as just spiritual sensory perception,we would misunderstand Paul's words. We would misunderstand him because Paul is saying that it is not a feeling of one body with a mystical lord which is only knowable through some individualistic experience or by a special person. Also, it's because when Paul says "to be in Christ," it's obvious that he is thinking about one other important point. That is "the church." He sent the following words to the disciples at Rome: "We are many in number and are formed as one body joined by Christ (being in Christ), and each one is a mutual part of the others," (Romans 12:5). When Paul says "being in the Lord," it seems clear from here what is made by that imagery is the life of faith which one lives in connection with the church and it is a life of prayer formed in a relationship that worships together as a concrete body.
The Peace That Passes Human Knowledge Preserves The Heart And The Mind
10. Therefore, here Paul exhorts a message for concrete and definite prayer. Please see verse six. "Stop worrying your mind over everything. Offer up requests and prayers included with thanksgiving in everything; open your hearts to God with what you are asking for. In so doing, the peace of God which passes all human wisdom will preserve by Christ your hearts and minds." Unless prayer is formed in the church, it becomes reduced to mere wishing and wanting. So, [unless prayer is shaped by the context of church life] I think it doesn't turn out to be "included with thanksgiving in everything." What is being preached about here is more than just asking for things. It's clear that what is being preached about here is "offering up requests and prayer included with thanksgiving."
11. "Offering up requests and prayer included with thanksgiving" is not necessarily and not always "humbly saying to God only a word of thanksgiving." There are prayers of lamentation made before God in prayer and there are also prayers of appeal to God. When we read the Psalms of the Old Testament, we have feelings of being overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of the world in those prayers. Therefore, what is being said here is not an offering up to God of just a word of thanksgiving that is all tidied up on the surface and makes no sense. That's not it. Whatever words we might find in prayer will have thanksgiving to God in a portion of it at its very foundation. In other words, reliance upon "God" who "loves us and does the best for us" is at the base of prayer. Just exactly as on a gusty day of winds the surface of the river billows into rolls, but at the level of the undercurrent the river seems to flow slowly with a smoothness in one direction. So, reliance upon such a loving and benevolent God is first formed in speaking about the cross and the resurrection of Christ and in a relationship where he is worshipped based on the good news of the cross and the resurrection.
12. What will happen in a place which has prayer based on that kind of trusting? What will happen when one opens his or her heart to God with requests made based on that type of reliance? Paul says: "In so doing, the peace of God which passes all human wisdom will preserve your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (being in Christ Jesus)," (verse seven). Paul who lived in the Lord proved it with his own existence and it is the word of promise he handed over to us as a fact of certainty.
13. Paul says, "it will preserve your hearts and minds." We always attempt to preserve ourselves through various means and methods. For example, a person faced with illness tries to preserve himself or herself from that illness. Or, in times of recession a person tries to keep oneself from economic poverty. If a person gets tangled up in a quarrel or trouble, the person seeks to protect himself or herself from suffering any disadvantage in that situation. But oftentimes we haven't a clue on how to preserve ourselves. Unless "the heart and the mind" is preserved, we really don't realize why we haven't been preserved. While the heart is fixated on only trying to preserve the body from illness, without realizing it our heart and mind can enter a state similar to a fallen fortress. While being absorbed in watching only the flow of money coming in and out, it is possible for the heart and the mind to become as a pitiful castle in ruins. Will what has been preserved become like that? It will not.
14. As he talks here he is a prisoner still pending trial in jail. He didn't even know if he would be alive tomorrow. But he was a man whose heart and mind were being preserved by the peace of God that passes human wisdom and by the tranquility of God. We should call that kind of person as "a man who is being preserved." Furthermore, this was not just given to Paul alone. Paul says that, "In so doing, the peace of God which passes all human wisdom will preserve your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." In fact, this is the grace promised to all persons who are in the Lord.
15. When we read it like this we understand why Paul says "Rejoice always in the Lord. I say it again. Rejoice. Act so that your big hearts be known by all persons." As I said at the start, this is all about "You can be joyous. You can live with joy," and "You can live with big hearts." It is not a matter of trying to be joyous in a senseless way; nor is it a matter of trying to be tolerant in a mindless manner. That's not it. It is about the important matter of living in this one main factor described as "in the Lord." As I said before, it is not a matter of seeking an individualistic mystical experience. It is about being connected securely to the co-operative body of life made alive through the gospel. It is about going on securely in a life of prayer and worship based on a reliance upon God.